The global mobile data traffic grew by 82 per cent between the first quarter of 2018 and the corresponding quarter in 2019, as per the recently released Ericsson Mobility Report. The traffic growth has been largely driven by the rising number of smartphone subscriptions and the increasing average data volume per subscription, primarily on account of video consumption. The mobile traffic is expected to grow by 30 per cent annually between 2018 and 2024. Much of this demand will be driven by video services.

Video traffic on mobile networks is expected to grow by 34 per cent annually up to 2024 to account for nearly 75 per cent of the total mobile data traffic, as against 60 per cent in 2018. The presence of embedded videos in online applications, growth of video-on-demand (VoD) streaming services both in terms of subscribers and viewing time per subscriber, and higher screen resolution on smart devices are some of the key trends in video consumption. All of these factors can be attributed to the increasing penetration of video-capable smart devices. Social network traffic is also expected to rise 22 per cent annually over the next six years. However, its share in mobile traffic will decline from 11 per cent in 2018 to around 8 per cent in 2024, because of the stronger growth of video.

Video is everywhere

Users are spending more time streaming and sharing video. This is expected to continue as video is embedded in all types of online content. Several surveys indicate that smartphone users worldwide expect 5G to bring the network performance needed for immersive video formats and applications. Streaming 360-degree video, and augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) applications will become a significant driver in the growth of mobile traffic. These will enhance user experience as 5G is rolled out and compatible devices are successively introduced.

The following factors are driving video consumption globally:

  • Video forms a part of most online content, including news, advertisements and social media
  • There has been a rise in VoD services
  • Video streaming services are witnessing a surge in demand
  • Changing user behaviour as people now consume videos anywhere, any time
  • Expanding user base beyond early adopters
  • Evolving devices with larger screens and higher resolution
  • Improved network performance owing to evolving 4G deployments
  • Emerging immersive media formats and applications (High-definition/Ultra-high-definition, 360-degree video, AR, VR)

More than 20 service providers have introduced the video over LTE (ViLTE) service and there are more than 290 ViLTE-enabled devices available.

Growth in mobile data traffic

The total mobile data traffic is estimated to increase at a compound annual growth rate of 30 per cent globally between 2018 and 2024, to reach 131 exabytes (EB) per month by the end of 2024. This is slightly lower than the previously reported growth rate and has been revised on account of the strong growth seen in 2018. However, this growth is not evenly distributed and large variations can be anticipated across regions.

Populous markets that will witness the early launch of 5G are likely to lead the traffic growth during the forecast period. By 2024, 5G networks will carry 35 per cent of mobile data traffic globally. Smartphones will generate 95 per cent of the total data traffic by the end of 2024 as against 90 per cent at present.

Regional update

Globally, the increase in monthly mobile data traffic per smartphone can be attributed to the following trends:

  • improved device capabilities,
  • affordable data plans, and
  • increase in data-intensive content.

India has the highest average usage per smartphone. The average monthly usage stood at 9.8 GB as of end-2018. Increased numbers of LTE subscriptions, attractive data plans being offered by service providers and changing viewing habits, especially among young people, have been the key demand drivers.

Northeast Asia has the second highest monthly usage, averaging 7.1 GB. The traffic per smartphone grew significantly during 2018 in the region. Attractive data plans, and innovative mobile apps and content have increased monthly mobile data usage, particularly in China. Northeast Asia is the world’s most populous region with the largest share in the global mobile data traffic. In 2024, mobile data traffic in the region is estimated to reach 39 EB per month, accounting for 30 per cent of the world total. Mobile broadband subscriptions are expected to increase, with China alone set to witness around 190 million new mobile broadband subscriptions between 2018 and 2024. Increased subscriptions, together with increased usage per smartphone, will drive the total mobile data traffic up to 30 EB per month in China.

In North America, the traffic growth was lower than expected. Nevertheless, the average usage of mobile data is expected to reach 39 GB per month per smartphone by 2024. This will be driven by the financial strength of consumers, 5G roll-outs with a high share of subscriptions at the end of the forecast period, and innovative apps and content.

The Middle East and Africa region is expected to witness the highest growth rate, growing eight times between 2018 and 2024. Smartphone subscriptions are projected to almost double, increasing penetration of all mobile subscriptions from 46 per cent to 63 per cent. In 2024, total monthly mobile data traffic in the region is expected to reach 15 EB.

In Latin America, traffic is predicted to increase by a factor of 6 between 2018 and 2024, taking it to 8.9 EB per month. The traffic growth is driven by wider coverage and adoption of LTE in the region, a 16 per cent rise in smartphone subscriptions and increase in average data usage per smartphone from 3.1 GB to 18 GB per month. In Central and Eastern Europe, the traffic is estimated to grow by a factor of 6 from 1.2 EB to 7.4 EB per month during the forecast period. This growth is fuelled by the migration from 3G to 4G, coupled with a 46 per cent growth in the number of smartphone subscriptions. Meanwhile, the monthly traffic per smartphone is expected to increase from 4.5 GB to 19 GB.

North America and Western Europe have a larger share in the total traffic volume than subscription numbers imply. This is due to the well-built LTE networks and deep penetration of high-end user devices, complemented with affordable packages offering large volumes of data. Mobile data traffic is expected to reach 14 EB per month both in North America and Western Europe by 2024. Further, data-intensive services such as video, and VR and AR applications are expected to become more prevalent with the introduction of 5G during the forecast period. s

Excerpts from the Ericsson Mobility Report, June 2019