Feature Article

February 19, 2013

Mobile Data Traffic Grew 100 Percent in 2012

Mobile data traffic doubled between the fourth quarter of 2011 and the fourth quarter of 2012, according to Ericsson, with quarter over quarter growth of 28 percent between the third and fourth quarters of 2012. That is significant because the overall growth of data is probably lower, on the order of 40 percent annually.

In large part, that traffic growth was driven by an increased number of smartphone devices in use. In the fourth quarter of 2012, mobile broadband subscriptions grew by about 125 million, a 50 percent year-over-year increase. 

All other things being equal, that would have lead to a 50-percent increase in data consumption, since smar phones are virtually synonymous with use of mobile data.

About 40 percent of all mobile phones sold during 2012 were smartphones, compared to around 30 percent for the full year 2011. Still, the data increases could suggest much more is in store, as only around 15 percent to 20 percent of the worldwide installed base of mobile phone subscriptions are for smartphones.

Australia, U.K., Sweden, Norway, Saudi Arabia and UAE each have more than 50 percent of their population using smartphones. An additional seven countries—U.S., New Zealand, Denmark, Ireland, Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland—now have greater than 40 percent smartphone penetration, Google notes.

As described by sociology professor Everett Rogers, new technologies tend to follow a standard adoption curve. The curve can be broken down into five distinct user segments when mapped against time:

  • Innovators (2.5% of market)
  • Early Adopters (13.5% of market)
  • Early Majority (34% of market)
  • Late Majority (34% of market)
  • Laggards (16% of market)

By that measure, the U.S. market, for example, already has entered the  “early majority” stage of smartphone adoption, which is to say the U.S.  market is nearing “peak” adoption rates. On a global basis, smartphone penetration might be as high as 29 percent. Other estimates of smartphone adoption would leave more room for growth.

What seems clear, under any set of forecasts, is that smartphone adoption will virtually automatically drive higher data consumption.

The changing mix of air interface technologies also will drive higher usage, as studies show that users consume more data when they have faster connections. In that regard, about 80 percent of smartphone activations over the past year were of the slower GSM, GPRS and EDGE 2G and 3G networks.

Data consumption will climb as the mix of new accounts shifts to LTE.

Edited by Brooke Neuman

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