Five years ago, mobile voice traffic was about twice that of data traffic. Today, data traffic is over seven times that of voice traffic.1 In fact, data traffic doubled in just one year, between 2012 and 2013,2 and that trend is expected to continue with overall mobile data traffic doubling each and every year for the foreseeable future. Operators have effectively become mobile ISPs rather than phone companies.

Now that the floodgates are opened for this huge volume of data, operators are working feverishly on ways to keep up. Demand continues to grow, but airwave capacity is in short supply. Current LTE networks are up to five times more efficient than 3G technology, but by 2016, 60 percent of mobile users will consume an average of more than 1 GB of data per month, compared to just .5 percent having done so in 2011.1

Where will this voracious appetite for data come from in the years ahead? A huge area of growth will be with tablets and mobile PCs. On average, a mobile PC generates about five times more traffic than a smartphone currently,2 and tablets will continue to become a larger segment of the market. In fact, by 2016 around 25% of global mobile users will have at least two devices.1 The number of mobile-connected devices will actually exceed the number of people on Earth this year.2 That’s a staggering amount, and every man, woman and child will be using more and more data.

The trend towards greater data traffic can also be attributed to the increase in people sending and receiving video, and subscribers’ demand for quick downloads and a freely streaming experience. As more and more of that video is HD and optimized for tablets and computers, the size of these files will continue to be a strain on cellular networks. According to a report by Ericsson, video will account for about half of all global mobile data traffic by 2018.2

Data traffic will continue to increase as people find more and more ways to use their mobile devices. Multiple devices, cloud computing, and even the increased data speed we’re already enjoying encourages more consumption of high-bandwidth content. And the increase in consumption will require timely and insightful bandwidth solutions from the wireless industry’s innovators. Now that the torrent is upon us, there’s no going back.

1 Source: Cisco Visual Networking Index: Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update, 2012-2017 (February 6, 2013)

2 Source: Ericsson Mobility Report (June 2013)