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Mobile data growth accelerating worldwide, led by smartphone users

John Cox | Feb. 8, 2013
Mobile traffic globally is soaring, and its rate of growth is accelerating, spurred by a surge in smartphones and tablets, as well as 4G connections.

The spread of 4G, mainly LTE, is having an outsized impact on data traffic. Globally, only about 1% of mobile connections were on 4G networks in 2012. But that accounts for an astounding 14% of global mobile traffic. Cisco projects that 4G will be 10% of all connections in 2013, yet account for 47% of total mobile traffic.

The device population generating this traffic is quickly diversifying. In 2013, for the first time, traffic from smartphones will be greater than traffic from laptops, which have been by far the main driver of mobile data traffic for years.

Smartphones will gain the most share, rising to just over 27% of all mobile-connected devices (including M2M) in 20917. M2M will also expand rapidly to just over 16% of the total. Tablets will be 2.3% and laptops will be 2.6% of the total. Non-smartphones will still account for 50% of all mobile connected devices in 2017.

These different classes of devices will generate different traffic loads. By 2017, Cisco predicts that smartphones will account for just over 67% of all global mobile data traffic. By themselves, smartphones will be responsible for 90 exabytes of data traffic in 2017. By comparison the total mobile traffic from all devices in 2012 was 11 exabytes.

Laptops will have dropped to 14% of the traffic in 2017, from 45% in 2012; tablets will have risen to nearly 12%. Non-smartphones, though the most numerous, will generate just 1.4% of all mobile traffic in five years.

By operating system, Android now has the top spot, surpassing iOS in 2012 in terms of megabytes per month. In September 2012, Android accounted for about 1,300MB per month, iOS for just under 1,000MB per month. They were followed, surprisingly, by PalmOS, then "proprietary" platforms, "Windows" (presumably including Windows Phone as well as Windows-powered laptops), BlackBerry and in distant last place, Linux.

The top apps - the ones generating the most data consumption - for smartphones are: Video and communications, 45% of data consumption; "information" for 12%, web browsing for 6%; social networking, for 7% and music/audio streaming for 4%. Tablets show a similar ranking: video/communictions, 50%; information, 17%; Web browsing 7%; social networking 7%; music/audio, 4%.

Tiered data plans have been a key means by which carriers have and will continue to manage mobile data growth. According to Cisco, by October 2011, tiered plans already accounted for over 65% of all mobile data plans worldwide. But the unlimited plans were consuming much more data on average, 739MB compared to 425MB.

One year later, by September 2012, over 80% of mobile data plans were tiered, consuming on average 922MB compared to 1,261MB on average for unlimited plan users.


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