Mobile data traffic forecast says seven-times growth in six years

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Mobile data traffic growth will continue on a hockey stick trajectory, according to Ericsson’s latest Mobility Report. North American smartphone users will, on average, be consuming 7 gigabytes of data per month by the end of this year, and by 2023 will be burning through 48 GB per month, the most of any region.

This growth is the reason that mobile carriers are pushing hard to increase the density, and consequently the capacity, of their networks. Equipment upgrades – from 4G to 5G technology – will help, but the big gains will come from putting more and more cells into a given space. At least in urban and suburban areas with sufficient return on investment potential.

Video is still the killer app – literally, given the impact traffic growth will have on 4G networks. Ericsson estimates that video will account for about 75% of usage in 2023 – that’s about 36 GB per month, more than a gigabyte a day, for North American smartphone users. Smartphones will increasingly be the device of choice for video viewing, at higher and higher levels of resolution…

The emergence of new applications and changes in consumer behavior can shift the forecast relative traffic volumes. Streaming videos in different resolutions can impact data traffic consumption to a high degree. Watching HD video (1080p) rather than video at a standard resolution (480p) typically increases the data traffic volume by around 4 times. An emerging trend with increased streaming of immersive video formats, such as 360-degree video, would also impact data traffic consumption. For example, a YouTube 360-degree video consumes 4 to 5 times as much bandwidth as a normal YouTube video at the same resolution.

Another driver is an increasing preference among consumers for on-demand and catch-up TV over scheduled linear TV viewing. Consumer research indicates that as early as 2020, half of all TV and video viewing will be done on a mobile screen.

Worldwide, total mobile data traffic will grow from 14 exabytes to 110 EB per month by 2023 (an exabyte is one billion gigabytes), and from 2.6 EB to 18 EB in North America alone, a seven-fold increase.