A rapidly growing shift from basic feature phones to smartphones, combined with expanding mobile device use and machine-to-machine (M2M) applications, will power a 10-fold increase in mobile data traffic in the next five years, according to a recent forecast by network gear company Cisco.
In 2014, 88 per cent of global mobile traffic was attributed to “smart traffic” from computing and multimedia capable devices running on a minimum of 3G connectivity. That figure is expected to shoot up to 97 per cent by 2019.
The Cisco Visual Networking Index (VNI) Mobile Forecasts projects that global mobile data traffic will reach an annual growth rate of 292 exabytes by 2019, up from 30 exabytes last year. One Exabyte is equal to one quintillion bytes or one billion gigabytes.
Cisco also expects 3G connectivity to surpass 2G as the primary cellular technology. By 2019, 3G will be supporting 44 per cent of mobile devices and connections around the world. BY this time 4G networks will account for 26 per cent of connections and represent 68 per cent of worldwide traffic.
Growth of Wi-Fi
Cisco also estimates that more than half of mobile traffic will be transferred from conventional cellular systems to Wi-Fi and small cell networks. To prevent network congestion, carriers will move 54 per cent of mobile data traffic to these new systems.
There will be approximately 24.3 exabytes a month of global cellular traffic by 2019 compared to 29 exabytes a month on Wi-Fi for the same period. The number of minutes of voice over Wi-Fi will exceed that on LTE by 2018, said Thomas Burnett Jr., Cisco study lead, in an interview with the New York Times.
However, this move could cut into profits as carriers cannot charge customers for Wi-Fi the same way they do with cellular services.
Low-power, wide-area connection such as those from monitors used in hospitals and for tracking assets in a factory will grow, said Burnett. Today they account for one-tenth of one percent of all mobile connections.
By 2019, these connections will grow 80 fold to eight per cent of the 11.5 billion device connections to mobile networks. This growth could also give rise to new business models and regulatory issues, said Burnett.
VoWi-Fi surpasses VoLTE
Voice-over-Wi-Fi (VoWi-Fi) is not new, but earlier solutions had limitations that affected adoption and end-user experiences. Carrier-grade VoWi-Fi offers are now being introduced, which can be delivered to non-SIM devices, such as Wi-Fi- only tablets. VoWi-Fi has the potential for significant growth over the next five years:
- By 2017, VoWi-Fi traffic (10.8 Petabytes/year) will exceed VoLTE traffic (10.7 PB/year).
- By 2018, VoWi-Fi will exceed Voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) in the number of minutes used per year.
- By 2019, VoWi-Fi minutes of use will account for more than half – 53 per cent – of all mobile IP voice traffic.
- By 2019, the number of Wi-Fi-capable tablets and PCs (1.9 billion) will be nearly 3.5-times the number of cellular-capable tablets and PCs (542 million).
From 2014 to 2019, Cisco anticipates that global mobile traffic growth will outpace global fixed traffic growth by a factor of three. Trends driving mobile data traffic growth include:
- More mobile users – By 2019, there will be 5.2 billion mobile users (up from 4.3 billion in 2014). In 2014, nearly 59 per cent of the world’s population (7.2 billion people) was comprised of mobile users; by 2019, more than 69 percent of the world’s population (7.6 billion people) will be mobile users.
- More mobile connections -By 2019, there will be approximately 11.5 billion mobile-ready devices/connections, including 8.3 billion personal mobile devices and 3.2 billion M2M connections (up from 7.4 billion total mobile-ready devices and M2M connections in 2014).
- Faster mobile speeds – Average global mobile network speeds will increase 2.4 fold from 2014 (1.7 Mbps) to 2019 (4.0 Mbps).
- More mobile video- By 2019, mobile video will represent 72 per cent of global mobile data traffic (up from 55 per cent in 2014).
The impact of wearable devices:
- The number of wearable devices globally will grow five-fold, reaching 578 million by 2019, up from 109 million in 2014, with the majority of devices anticipated in North American and Asia Pacific.
- This is expected to fuel 18-fold growth in mobile traffic from wearable devices between 2014 and 2019, with most of it channeled through smartphones.
- In 2014, the average wearable device generated 6X more traffic per month than a basic handset
(wearables = 141 MBs mobile traffic/month vs. basic handsets = 22 MBs mobile traffic/month).
- As an example of a high-end wearables use case, livestreaming of a GoPro video camera on a cellular network would generate about 5 MB of mobile data traffic per minute.
- In 2014, the average M2M module generated three-times more traffic per month than a basic handset (M2M = 70 MB of mobile traffic/month vs.basic handsets = 22 MB of mobile traffic/month).
“The ongoing adoption of more powerful mobile devices and wider deployments of emerging M2M applications, combined with broader access to faster wireless networks, will be key contributors to significant mobile traffic growth in the coming years,” said Doug Webster, vice-president of products and solutions marketing at Cisco.