News Column

Smartphone Data Usage Soaring; Soon We'll All be Data Hogs

February 10, 2011

Cisco recently released a fascinating report on the current and future state of mobile data usage.

While the title of the report is dry _ "Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update, 2010-2015" _ the findings are astounding.

Here's a taste:

_ Last year's mobile data traffic was three times the size of the entire global Internet in 2000. Global mobile data traffic in 2010 (237 petabytes per month) was over three times greater than the total global Internet traffic in 2000 (75 petabytes per month).

_ Mobile video traffic will exceed 50 percent for the first time in 2011. Mobile video traffic was 49.8 percent of total mobile data traffic at the end of 2010, and will account for 52.8 percent of traffic by the end of 2011.

_ Mobile network connection speeds doubled in 2010. Globally, the average mobile network downstream speed in 2010 was 215 kilobits per second (kbps), up from 101 kbps in 2009. The average mobile network connection speed for smartphones in 2010 was 1040 kbps, up from 625 kbps in 2009.

_ The top 1 percent of mobile data subscribers generate over 20 percent of mobile data traffic, down from 30 percent 1 year ago. According to a mobile data usage study conducted by Cisco, mobile data traffic has evened out over the last year and now matches the 1:20 ratio that has been true of fixed networks for several years. Similarly, the top 10 percent of mobile data subscribers now generate approximately 60 percent of mobile data traffic, down from 70 percent at the beginning of the year.

_ Average smartphone usage doubled in 2010. The average amount of traffic per smartphone in 2010 was 79 MB per month, up from 35 MB per month in 2009.

_ The average smartphone will generate 1.3 GB of traffic per month in 2015, a 16-fold increase over the 2010 average of 79 MB per month. Aggregate smartphone traffic in 2015 will be 47 times greater than it is today, with a CAGR of 116 percent.

And here's a look at average mobile data usage by smartphone operating system.

You can see that while the average monthly traffic per smartphone might be only 79 megabytes per month, that average is kept low thanks to the meager data downloads on older smartphones, such as Palm OS and Windows Mobile devices.

On the latest iPhone and Android machines, average data use is much, much higher at 355 and 209 megabytes per month, respectively.

And it's easy to see how these numbers will soar in the coming years.

First, all the carriers will be offering super-fast 4G phones this year, which are capable of sucking down data much faster than older 3G and even 2G smartphones.

Second, the screen resolutions on smartphones are increasing every year. While 800x480 was top-of-the-line last year, and the iPhone 4 was the outlier with its 960x640 resolution, this year many phones will have iPhone-esque resolutions.

Those higher resolution screens will be great for watching super-sharp videos, and you can bet that Netflix and iTunes and Amazon and all the other companies streaming videos to mobile devices will increase the resolution of their videos to take advantage of those awesome screens.

But higher resolution video means much higher bitrates, which mean more data being downloaded. And with video set to make up more than 50 percent of mobile data traffic this year, smartphones users clearly have a huge appetite for that service.

How will wireless carriers respond? Well, we've already seen one possible response, from Richardson-based MetroPCS.

Metro, if you remember, when it rolled out its new 4G plans, announced unlimited Web browsing would be included in all its plans. But, the only streaming media service you can access on the entry-level $40 per month is YouTube.

For $50 per month, you get unlimited Web, YouTube and a one-gig allowance for additional media services (think Pandora, Netflix, etc.).

For unlimited media streaming from any sources, you have to sign up for the most expensive $60 per month plan.

That business model upset some net neutrality advocates, but Metro has stuck to its guns.

Could AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint and T-Mobile try something similar? I wouldn't be surprised, especially when AT&T and Verizon get their first 4G LTE phones on the market.

Source: Copyright The Dallas Morning News 2011

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