According to figures from networking giant Cisco released last year, global mobile data traffic reached a whopping 2.5 exabytes per month – that's twice times the size of the entire global internet in 2000. And the figures just keep growing- according to Gartner, mobile data traffic will see 59% growth in 2015. This continued explosion is down to newer and faster networks, a rise in the number of users, demand for apps and video, and more affordable 3G and 4G handsets.
'Although network speed and reliability are priorities for many mobile customers, it is really apps and content that are driving traffic volumes as people increasingly chat to friends and family, watch videos on the move, and listen to streamed music,' says Gartner research director Jessica Ekholm.
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It's a perfect storm- 3G networks continue to fuel data growth in many parts of the world such as the Middle East and Africa where they're still spreading fast, while the availability of more affordable 4G handsets and services is a contributer in other parts of the world.
Gartner predicts that by 2018, 4G users will generate 46% of all mobile data traffic. This is because, by 2018, each 4G smartphone will use nearly 5.5GB of data per month, which is three times more than a 3G smartphone.
But by far the biggest factor in the volume of mobile data is video- something which Gartner says is currently generating as much as 50% of all mobile data.
'We expect video streaming to account for over 60 per cent of mobile data traffic in 2018, as consumers increase the number of videos they watch and upload,' says Ekholm. 'Fast, uninterrupted, video experiences encourage people to increase their video usage.'
The growth in the number of users of video-calling services is also noteworthy. In terms of traffic, five minutes of 3G FaceTime video calling uses up to 15MB of data — a small amount. However, as there are many users, the collective total amount can be large. In addition, mobile music streaming can easily generate hundreds of megabytes of data, but this varies greatly between mobile music apps — for example, a user actively listening to music on Spotify may consume more than twice as much data as a user of Pandora.'
So what should CSPs and mobile app developers do to harness this growth, if the amount of time consumers spend on the Internet, whether via mobile phone, tablet or PC, will continue to increase?
Ekholm advises that CSPs need to focus on creating new pricing with a focus on data access, such as shared plans.
'They will also need to refine the services they already provide, with a focus on creating richer, more immersive and more personalized experiences, to increase their customer numbers.'
As the mobile app market matures, app developers will have to sharpen their focus on the marketing and transparency of their apps, in order to retain customers. Gartner's research indicates that although affluent people and traditional early adopters are the leading users of new technologies and devices, younger, less wealthy people make greater use of mobile apps. Young people's greater acceptance of apps and mobile content will require app developers to adjust their techniques to address the differences between user groups.
The future will be tough for CSPs and mobile app developers that decide not to upgrade the user experiences they deliver on their services and products.
'The winners will be those providers best able to satisfy consumers' demand for high data use, while maintaining their margins,' concluded Ekholm.