4G Still Low Among Global Data Usage
February 6, 2013

Global Data On The Rise, But 4G Adoption Slow

Enid Burns for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

Mobile continues to grow as a web-browsing platform. A new report, the Cisco Visual Networking Index (VNI) Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update, part of the comprehensive Cisco VNI Forecast from Cisco Networks, offers some insight into trends happening in mobile.

In 2012, Cisco tracked several activities on mobile networks to tabulate data and identify trends. Top among the trends was the fact global mobile data traffic grew 70 percent last year. Global mobile data traffic reached 885 petabytes per month. In 2011, data traffic reached 520 petabytes a month. Growth in mobile traffic comes with increased proliferation of smartphones and tablets on 3G and 4G networks.

Mobile data traffic is surpassing the global Internet use of the early days in a big way. Cisco compared mobile data traffic to Internet traffic in 2000, the early days of the Internet compared to a similar timeframe in mobile, and found mobile data traffic was nearly twelve times the size of global Internet usage in 2000. Global mobile data traffic for 2012 reached 885 petabytes per month, compared to 75 petabytes per month. It is likely there are more users on the mobile web than there were users on the Internet in 2000. Those users are also used to the Internet, compared to 2000 when the Internet was still relatively new and those who had access weren't as entrenched in the Internet. In 2000, there was also less content and fewer online services.

The surprising finding in the VNI Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast might be 4G has been around for roughly two years in many regions, yet adoption remains slow. Connections using 4G represent 0.9 percent of mobile connections today, however they account for 14 percent of mobile data traffic. Users of 4G phones and devices generated 19 times more traffic on average, compared to non-4G connections.

Even with sluggish 4G adoption, mobile connection speeds are getting faster. In fact, mobile connection speeds doubled in 2012. "Globally, the average mobile network downstream speed in 2012 was 526 kilobits per second (kbps), up from 248 kbps in 2011. The average mobile network connection speed for smartphones in 2012 was 2,064 kbps, up from 1,211 kbps in 2011," the report stated.

Cisco identified heavy users in the VNI Global Mobile Data Traffic report. The top 1 percent of mobile data subscribers generate 16 percent of mobile data traffic. In the beginning of 2012, 1 percent of mobile data subscribers generated 52 percent of mobile data traffic. "Mobile data traffic has evened out over the last year and is now lower than 1:20 ratio that has been true of fixed networks for several years," said the report.

Smartphone usage grew 81 percent in 2012, on average. In 2012, the average amount of traffic per smartphone was 342 MB per month, which is up from 189 MB per month a year before.

While one might think everyone has a smartphone these days -- or should have a smartphone -- proliferation is actually low. Globally, smartphones represented 18 percent of total handsets in use in 2011. However, smartphones represented 92 percent of total global handset traffic. Smartphones generated 50 times more mobile data traffic -- roughly 342 MB per month -- than the typical basic-feature cell phone. Feature phones generated 6.8 MB per month of mobile data traffic this past year.

Among smartphones, Android is dominant. By the end of 2012, average Android consumption exceeded average iPhone consumption in the United States and Western Europe. That means Android phones outnumbered iPhones, or users consumed more global data traffic in 2012.