Wireless data traffic added up 13.72 trillion MB in 2016, equivalent to 1.58 million years of streaming HD video, according to new research released by wireless industry group CTIA . This is up 4.07 trillion megabytes over 2015. In fact, since 2014 data usage has increased 238% and is currently 35 times the volume generated in 2010.
These are eye-popping numbers, and while CTIA research didn't breakdown the contribution from video specifically, it's increasingly apparent that video is what's driving traffic. Most operators we speak with are seeing video account for about two thirds to three fourths of their traffic today, and growing rapidly.
This is only set to grow with the adoption of "fat video" applications such as UHD and virtual reality. Mobile devices are already incorporating 4K cameras, while social networks are promoting live streaming and virtual reality.
The CTIA study found that mobile devices now outnumber US citizens: there are approximately 396 million mobile devices being used today, or about 1.2 devices per American. Ninety-five percent of Americans own a mobile phone today, far more than own computers. In fact, more than half of all Americans now only use a mobile phone; they have no landline. And 12% use their mobile device as their primary form of access to the Internet.
Smartphone adoption is a primary driver, with about 80% of Americans now owning one. But smartphones generate 102 times more data than basic mobile phones; and improvements in network speeds, device capabilities and new apps and services are driving rapid increases in data usage. As you would imagine, younger users are the primary drivers, with 92% of 18 to 29 year olds owning smartphones. Income is also a factor, with 64% of those earning less than $30,000 owning a smartphone compared with 93% of those earning more than $75,000.
Operators have responded with network improvements, and the CTIA points out that 4G LTE speeds are 40 times the connection speeds offered via 3G in 2007. But is it enough to manage this relentless pressure of growing traffic?
Today, Americans spend an average of 2 hours and 32 minutes a day using apps or the web via smartphones, double the time they spent last year. Usage is also shifting to mobile from desktop devices -- 71% of online time spent is via mobile devices.
The story from this study is one of dramatic growth for the US wireless industry in terms of usage and traffic. And the CTIA does attempt to highlight the investment and innovation that the industry has brought about in the past years. But for me, the main message from this research is the inexorable and staggering pace of traffic growth -- and how operators will just have to find ways to manage it.
— Aditya Kishore, Practice Leader, Video Transformation, Telco Transformation