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February 29, 2012
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Video-driven mobile traffic surges

It is difficult to exaggerate the rise of mobile data and the role that video plays in this surging trend. The numbers are just that high.

Start with the devices themselves. According to market research firm Canalys, in 2011, for the first time, global shipments of smart phones exceeded those of PCs, 488 million to 415 million. If the firm were not counting computer tablets as PCs, the difference would have been greater. Canalys counted 63 million tablets shipped in 2011. (Given numbers from Apple, about two-thirds of those were iPads.)

Moreover, most PCs could fall into a mobile category. More than half of the Canalys total for PCs are laptops or netbooks; only one-fourth being desktops.

Now turn to the traffic itself. Consumers and businesses are not just buying these devices; they are using them. According to the latest iteration of Cisco’s Visual Networking Index, released in mid-February, global mobile Internet data traffic will grow 18-fold between 2011 and 2016. Video plays a large role in that boom.

In another milestone, mobile video traffic crossed the 50 percent threshold (hitting 52 percent by year end) for the first time in 2011. Cisco predicts that by 2016 it will comprise 71 percent of all mobile traffic.

In addition to continued growth of mobile video, Cisco identifies four other underlying trends: more streamed versus simply downloaded content; more mobile connections, including machine-to-machine (M2M) devices; enhanced computing power; and faster mobile speeds. The upshot is phenomenal growth in per user traffic.

“By 2066, 60 percent of mobile users – 3 billion people worldwide – will belong to the ‘Gigabyte Club,’ each generating more than one gigabyte of mobile data traffic per month,” said Cisco VP of Product and Solutions Marketing Suraj Shetty, in a statement. “By contrast, in 2011, only one-half (of one) percent of mobile users qualified.”

Cisco data on average traffic per mobile device type indicate that non-smart phones will actually exhibit the greatest rise in monthly traffic: a 25x increase from 4.3 MB to 108 MB. (Non-smart phones thus becoming smarter along the way.) Average smart phones traffic will grow 17x, from 150 MB to 2.6 GB. (See figure above.)

As for tablets, average monthly traffic will grow 8x, from 517 MB to 4.2 GB. But overall traffic is expected to grow much faster, 62x from 2011 to 2016. (Tablet sales are exploding; they grew 274 percent in 2011, according to Canalys.) Cisco predicts the amount of mobile data generated by tablets in 2016 will be four times the total amount of monthly global data traffic in 2010.

Currently about 11 percent of total mobile data traffic is offloaded onto fixed/Wi-Fi networks; by 2016, Cisco expects that to grow to 22 percent. (For more details, visit Cisco’s updated VNI.)