Will the rate of mobile data traffic really start to decrease in 2015, and should the predicted eight-fold rise in mobile data globally be a cause for concern? Guy Daniels reports.
A new report from ABI Research suggests that the global volume of mobile data traffic will exceed 107 exabytes in 2017. If true, that would be eight times more than the global volume seen today. However, senior ABI analyst Aapo Markkanen says that although this is a huge number, it shouldn’t be seen as a “data tsunami”, as traffic growth is going to slow:
“It looks like 2015 will be the last year when the traffic volume will grow by more than 50 per cent annually. And that will happen despite of the fact that the monthly average per wireless subscriber, worldwide, will increase to almost 1.5 gigabytes by the end of our forecasting period.”
But why will the rate of mobile data volumes start to slow down in 2015? Smartphones – the devices that account for the vast majority of mobile data traffic – are still a small percentage of the total mobile market. You can pick your favourite statistic, but it appears to be somewhere between 12 and 18 per cent. Yet all the indications are that this will increase dramatically in the next few years as average selling prices decrease and smart devices become more affordable. Add to this the fact that there are more and more compelling apps and services available to take advantage of data connectivity, and it becomes difficult to see how the decrease predicted by ABI is possible.
Markkanen warns against using this 107 exabyte figure as a means to extract more spectrum or revised licence conditions from national regulators.
He adds that a lot of the overall data consumption will depend on how much of the on-demand video content (which is expected to play an increasing role in the coming years) will actually be delivered over cellular networks. Performance changes implemented by content providers will factor into this. For example, Netflix recently added a Wi-Fi only option to its iOS app, to both improve the viewing experience and prevent its customers from incurring overage charges.
Markkanen says that other high-data activities that could be easily steered onto fixed networks are app downloads and updates. He’s also critical of Google’s data management of its Android platform:
“High-end Android smartphones, for example, have developed a reputation of being the worst sort of data hogs, but that is to a great extent just because Google has paid so little attention to the issue when designing its platform. More recently, though, both Android and Google Play have seen improvements that make it much easier for the end-users to monitor and control their data usage.”
Jake Saunders, VP for core forecasting at ABI Research, adds:
“Inadvertent data consumption has thus far been a surprisingly large source of traffic, but in the next couple of years we will see more and more of relatively quick fixes in the OS and the application levels. They will substantially ease this ‘needless’ burden on networks.”
Back in February, as part of its Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update, Cisco stated that cloud services will account for 71 per cent of mobile broadband use by 2016, up from 45 per cent last year. It also says that the top 20 per cent of mobile bandwidth consumers are growing their consumption almost three times faster than the top one per cent – showing that the proportion of heavy data users is increasing fast.
It also expects 10.8 exabytes of data will be sent over mobile networks per month in 2016 – for an annual total of around 130 exabytes –while the average mobile data consumption per user is predicted to be 1.2 GB per month.
Suddenly, 107 exabytes in 2017 looks a little conservative…
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