end of the PC era confirmed: no holding back the mobile internet

Mobile internet growth confirms the shift in computing to personal devices. The recent Cisco Visual Networking Index Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast tells us what we probably all ready knew: mobile devices have turned the internet upside down. 

Global mobile data traffic grew 2.6-fold in 2010, nearly tripling for the third year running.  To put it into perspective, Cisco claims that last year's mobile data traffic alone was three times the size of the entire global Internet in 2000, with the top 1% of mobile subscribers generating over 20% of mobile data traffic. Overall mobile data traffic is expected to grow to 6.3 exabytes per month by 2015, a 26-fold increase over 2010.
That direction is confirmed by StatCounter, which claims Internet usage through mobile devices has at least doubled each year since 2009. Many of these will have mobile broadband as their main way of accessing the internet.

we want data, and we want it everywhere

The cause of this is our love of smartphones, which in 2011 eclipsed PC sales for the first time says Canalys; 488 million smartphones shipped, compared to 415 million PCs. In fact the number of mobile-connected devices seems set to exceed the number of people on the planet, Cisco predicts , and that’s by the end of 2012.
Smartphones: Represent only 12% of total global handsets in use today, but over 82% of total global handset traffic. And, smartphone traffic in 2016 will be 50 times greater than it is today, with a CAGR of 119% percent.
Tablets: In 2011 the number of mobile-connected tablets tripled to 34 million, each one generating 3.4 times more traffic than the average smartphone. Relevant to this, it seems the average amount of traffic per smartphone in 2011 was 150 MB per month, up from 55 MB per month in 2010.
Ultrabooks: 3G-enabled ultra-notebooks are another trend that’s beginning to place significant new strains on mobile bandwidth. “There were 175 million laptops on the mobile network in 2011, and each laptop generated 22 times more traffic than the average smartphone. Mobile data traffic per laptop was 2.1 GB per month, up 46% from 1.5 GB per month in 2010.”

driving the demand

So what are people doing with their mobile devices to generate so much data traffic? Watching streaming videos, Cisco explains, is the single largest application. "Mobile video traffic will exceed 50% [of total mobile data traffic] for the first time in 2011.”  Two-thirds of the world's mobile data traffic will be video by 2016. 
Carriers are reacting to the accelerating demand for bandwidth, the survey confirms. Mobile network connection speeds improved, on average, by  66% in 2011. However,  the more speed we get, the faster we want to go. “Although 4G connections represent only 0.2% of mobile connections today, they already account for 6% of mobile data traffic," says Cisco. 

managing expectations

Supporting the accelerating level of data consumption is a problem for carriers. In an attempt to meet this demand, carriers are adopting hybrid systems to offload traffic onto fixed networks, using technologies such as Wi-Fi, Femtocells, White Space tech and so on. Globally, 33% of handset and tablet data traffic was offloaded onto the fixed network through Wi-Fi or femtocell access  in 2011, says Cisco.

Also supporting the effort to reduce the pressure on access networks is to limit user allowances. “The rapid increase in data usage presents a challenge to service providers who have implemented tiers defined solely in terms of usage limits. Mobile data caps that fall too far behind usage volumes may create opportunities for competitors in the market. For this reason, many service providers are creating more nuanced tiers and data add-ons, such as a separate charge for tethering and hotspot functionality.”


Stewart Baines
Stewart Baines

I've been writing about technology for nearly 20 years, including editing industry magazines Connect and Communications International. In 2002 I co-founded Futurity Media with Anthony Plewes. My focus in Futurity Media is in emerging technologies, social media and future gazing. As a graduate of philosophy & science, I have studied futurology & foresight to the post-grad level.