It’s no surprise more of us are turning to our smartphones and tablets for work and play, especially when we use those devices to check our email, watch videos online, and check up on our social networks.

But with all of that reliance on our mobile devices to get us online, the demand for mobile data has skyrocketed. This year, mobile data traffic is set to grow by 59 per cent worldwide, according to Gartner Inc. That’s due to a number of reasons – newer and faster networks, an increase in the number of users tapping into these networks, and the number of mobile apps that have cropped up.

Yet one of the most important reasons for the rise in demand is due to our use of mobile apps and mobile video apps, according to Jessica Ekholm, research director at Gartner. In a report, she explained why these are the top drivers of growth for mobile data – not just here in Canada, but worldwide.

“Although network speed and reliability are priorities for many mobile customers, it is really apps and content that are driving traffic volumes as people increasingly chat to friends and family, watch videos on the move, and listen to streamed music,” she said.

Watching videos via mobile devices has been, by far, the biggest reason behind the growth of mobile data. Based on Gartner’s estimates, people watching mobile videos have generated 50 per cent of all mobile data, and by 2018, that number could be as high as 60 per cent.

Nor is it just watching mobile video that is taking up a lot of data. Users are also using mobile data to video call each other – for example, with Apple’s FaceTime, five minutes of using 3G FaceTime on a video call can take up to 15 megabytes of data, according to Gartner. Streaming music also consumes a huge amount of data as well, although that depends on the app – for example, streaming via Spotify tends to use up more data than Pandora.

However, she added that not all data connections are created the same. While Canadians typically expect to get 4G levels of data, what tends to happen is that 3G fuels growth in the rest of the world. Ekholm pointed to the explosion of growth of 3G in developing markets, adding that she expects 3G connections to grow by 45.7 per cent worldwide this year.

That’s in stark contrast to the number of 4G connections out there. By 2018, half of North American mobile connections will be using 4G networks, but only a tiny fraction of mobile data users in the Middle East and Africa will follow suit.

So what does all of this mean for mobile app developers and Internet service providers? For one thing, they’ll have to think about the way they price data plans, as well as the way they build and market their apps, Ekholm said.

“[Communications service providers] will need to focus on creating new pricing with a focus on data access, such as shared plans. They will also need to refine the services they already provide, with a focus on creating richer, more immersive and more personalized experiences, to increase their customer numbers,” she said.

She added that mobile app developers will also have to shift their UX to fit younger, less wealthy people, as they’re the demographic that is most likely to use apps regularly.

“The future will be tough for [communications service providers] and mobile app developers that decide not to upgrade the user experiences they deliver on their services and products. The winners will be those providers best able to satisfy consumers’ demand for high data use, while maintaining their margins.”

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