On February 6, Cisco released its Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update, 2012 - 2017. This year the release of the report seems to have received less attention than in previous years. However, the report deserves just as much, if not more, attention as previous reports, especially in light of the tremendous growth it indicates with respect to mobile broadband subscribers and data usage over the past year.
The progress report documents the remarkable success of a marketplace where rapid innovation is both fueled by, and then rewarded with, swift consumer adoption of innovative new products.
According to Cisco’s latest Visual Networking Index, the number of mobile users will grow from 4.3 billion to 5.2 billion mobile users and more than 10 billion mobile connections, 45 percent of which will be through 4G networks, connected at speeds seven times faster than the current average.
Correspondingly, global mobile data traffic will grow 13-fold by 2017 to a rate of 11.2 exabytes consumed globally per month, totaling 134 exabytes annually. The 2012 monthly rate was 0.9 exabytes of mobile data traffic; still, this was nearly double the data usage average in 2011.
In each month of 2012, the average mobile consumer used data for one hour of video, two hours of audio, at least one video call, and one downloaded app per month. By 2017, each month consumers will use 2 gigabytes of data, including 10 hours of video and 15 hours of audio, 5 video calls, and 15 app downloads. In other words, during each month of 2017, mobile users are expected to view 30 trillion images, 10 a day for each person on Earth, or 3 trillion video clips, one video clip per day per person on Earth.
This projection means that Cisco estimates consumers will be using 46 times the total amount of mobile IP traffic in 2017 than they were in 2010, and specifically using 40 times the data across just high-speed 4G networks.
North American consumers currently use by far the most data per month: 752 megabytes compared to 491 in the next closest global region, Western Europe. In 2017, North Americans are projected to continue leading mobile data usage, averaging 6,171 MB, compared to 3,343 MB in Western Europe.
The FCC also recently released its Internet Access Services report, which provides data on Internet access connections through December 31, 2011, for the United States. Notable developments in the report include growth across all Internet connections; the number of connections over 200 kbps in at least one direction increased by 27% to 230 million. Mobile Internet subscriptions saw particularly large growth, with mobile subscriptions increasing to 142 million – a 46% increase from December 2010. Both fixed and mobile services shifted to higher speeds, with particularly notable growth in high-speed wireless broadband: the share of mobile wireless subscriptions with download speeds at or above 3 mbps increased from 11% to 22%.
For this exponential increase in traffic, Cisco credits laptops, but also the proliferation and rapid adoption of mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, which will drive 93 percent of global mobile traffic by 2017, as well as the use of multiple connected devices by single users. Today 45% of American adults own smartphones, 31% of American adults own a tablet computer, and more than 57% own a laptop.
Clearly, the rapid rise of mobile broadband is giving consumers another attractive option for connecting to the Internet. Because of the proliferation of wireless connections, the Pew Research Center reports that groups that have traditionally been on the other side of the digital divide are going online faster. The Internet access gap that is closing most rapidly is that between whites and minorities. Having broadband strongly affects how one uses the Internet. The Pew report called this the “mobile difference,” finding that “once someone has a wireless device she becomes much more active in how she uses the Internet . . . [and is more likely] to go online not just to find information but to share what they find and even create new content,” and become a participant in today’s digital dialogue.
As the Cisco and FCC reports make clear, exponential increases in high-speed mobile connections and usage occurred last year and are projected to continue at the same or greater rates through 2017. We should not take for granted the incredible progress made and the way in which this progress has empowered consumers by virtue of another means of Internet access.
This impressive progress should be allowed to continue unhindered by unnecessary regulations or other government mandates that ultimately increase costs that are passed along to the consumer.