Cisco: Mobile Device Use, Traffic to Grow Rapidly

In its annual report on mobile traffic, Cisco says cellular network speeds will increase, as will the need to offload traffic onto WiFi networks.

mobile traffic

By 2019, there will be 5.2 billion people worldwide using mobile devices and 11.5 billion mobile connections, which will help drive a tenfold jump in global mobile data traffic, according to researchers with Cisco Systems.

Mobile devices will be more powerful, and the growth in machine-to-machine (M2M) connections and increased access to 3G and 4G networks also will contribute to the rapid rise in annual mobile traffic, which will hit 292 exabytes per year by 2019 (compared with 30 exabytes in 2014).

These numbers are part of Cisco's annual Visual Networking Index Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast, which was released Feb. 3. This is the ninth year of the survey, and covers 2014 to 2019. According to the report, the trend for most aspects of mobile traffic—from the number of users and devices to the speeds of the networks, use of WiFi, numbers of connections, use of video and cellular traffic per month—is sharp increases.

"The number of mobile users is growing four times faster than the global population itself," Thomas Barnett, director of service provider thought leadership at Cisco, told eWEEK, noting that by 2019, 69 percent of the people in the world will be mobile device users.

According to Cisco's study, there will continue to be a trend toward smart devices—for example, over the next five years, smartphone use will continue to grow, accounting for 40 percent of the mobile devices in use. The percentage for feature phones will drop from 61 percent last year to 27 percent in 2019, while M2M devices will quadruple to 28 percent. For service providers, the trend is significant: These smart devices leverage more data, which means more money coming into their coffers.

By 2019, smart devices will account for 97 percent of mobile traffic.

Video, which will continue to grow as a major factor in mobile traffic, currently accounts for 55 percent of traffic; by 2019, that figure will be 72 percent.

The growth in mobile traffic will be significant. In 2014, mobile data traffic hit 2.5 exabytes per month. In 2019, that number will be 24.3 exabytes a month. On average, the monthly cellular traffic growth by mobile users will increase from 585MB to 4.4GB.

Networks will try to keep up with the growing demand: The average mobile speed will jump from 1.7M bps last year to 3.9M bps in 2019.

That will come as networks continue to adopt 3G and 4G speeds, according to Barnett. By 2017, 3G will surpass 2G. However, as traffic on cellular networks continues to skyrocket, service providers will be looking to offload more of it onto WiFi networks, he said. By 2019, 54 percent of mobile traffic will run on WiFi networks. In addition, the amount of M2M connections, such as sensors, will fuel the need not only for more IP addresses—and IPv6—but also low-power, wide-area networks.

Cisco defines M2M as devices and sensors that help make up the burgeoning Internet of things (IoT) and can communicate with each others. Wearable computing devices are included on that list. By 2019, there will be 8.3 billion personal mobile devices and 3.2 billion M2M connections.

The low-power WANs will help offload the growing amount of traffic generated by sensors from cellular networks. With these networks in place, "now sensors in the field … are not infringing on the network that you're using for texts," Barnett said.

The new report found a few surprising trends, according to Barnett and Shruti Jain, a senior analyst at Cisco. Last year Cisco officials expected the slowdown in PC use to continue, Barnett said. However, what the researchers found was an uptick in PCs.

"We're really seeing the resurgence of laptops and desktop PCs," he said.

He noted that new PC form factors—such as two-in-one devices, which can be used as either traditional laptops or tablets—are taking on the characteristics found in tablets, such as touch-screens. In addition, the rise of smartphones with increasingly larger screens—dubbed "phablets"—also is pressuring the tablet market.

Analysts with both IDC and Gartner have said PC shipments—which declined sharply between 2011 and 2013—have stabilized, in part because of the saturation of the tablet market. IDC analysts Feb. 2 reported that tablet shipments in the fourth quarter of 2014 showed the first year-over-year decline (a 3.2 percent drop), though for all of 2014, tablet shipments increased 4.4 percent.

In addition, Shruti said the expected growth in 3D televisions never materialized as Ultra HD TVs began hitting the market.