Mobile data traffic globally to grow 12x between 2013 and 2018 with video accounting for half
LTE networks supporting higher data loads, forecast to cover 60% of global population by 2018
WITH the consumption of digital content via mobile devices set to rise even more in the coming years, mobile network operators need to brace themselves and their infrastructure to handle the load.
According to a June 2013 Mobility Report released by Ericsson, a smartphone user is expected to more than quadruple mobile monthly data consumption from 450MB to an average of 2GB data per user in 2018.
“While voice remains a cornerstone of most operators' service offerings, it is data growth, driven by the uptake of smart devices and apps, which is having the most significant impact on networks globally,” said Todd Ashton (pic), president of Malaysia, Sri Lanka & Maldives for Ericsson.
Ashton added that based on year-on-year growth, data traffic has consistently doubled and as phenomenal as the pace is, it has actually “never been slower.”
“It will never be slower than it is today and that says a lot about the growth to come as networks get loaded with more data and with more companies creating content,” he said at a recent media in Kuala Lumpur.
Ericsson is predicting that mobile data traffic globally will grow by 12 times between 2013 and 2018. Video content is expected to account for half of that traffic with an average annual growth rate of 60%.
A key driver of this data explosion is the proliferation of affordable mobile devices along with the introduction of Long-Term Evolution (LTE) networks supporting higher data loads, which is forecast to cover 60% of the global population by 2018.
The report stated that LTE is currently being deployed and built out in all regions, and will reach around two billion subscriptions in 2018.
These subscriptions will represent the high-end share of the total subscriber base by 2018. Rapid migration to more advanced technologies in developed countries means global GSM/ EDGE-only subscription numbers will decline after 2012-2013.
Globally, GSM/ EDGE (Global System for Mobile communications/ Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution) will continue to lead in terms of subscription numbers until the later years of the forecast period (see image on left).
According to Ericsson, this is because new, less affluent users entering networks in growing markets will be likely to use the cheapest mobile phones and subscriptions available. In addition, it takes time for the installed base of phones to be upgraded.
“That is the fastest deployment of any mobile technology to date. Last year, the Asia region was dominated by GSM/ EDGE technology but we’re seeing a dramatic shift toward 3G/ HSPA (Third-Generation/ High-Speed Packet Access) and LTE,” Ashton said.
Ericsson is also forecasting that mobile networks would hold an average of 10 exabytes of data by 2017.
“For years telecommunications networks were designed to handle voice calls, and operators have been focused on delivering great voice performance. However the next challenge is building for app performance,” he said.
The explosive growth of smartphone and app usage has put a new focus on cellular network performance.
Today, there is a seemingly infinite variety of apps, and each has its own demands for network performance in terms of throughput and latency.
The Ericsson Mobility report noted that the traditional way of viewing coverage – an area that meets a set of fixed requirements – is no longer enough. A new approach that takes a diverse set of performance demands into consideration is needed.
Ericsson’s report revealed that there is a need for significantly more app coverage to run some of the more demanding apps, especially those that involve streaming or real-time video.
As app coverage is based on user experience, all things that affect network performance ultimately must be taken into consideration. This includes backhaul capacity from the radio base stations as well as the packet core and content delivery networks. App coverage requires a true end-to-end approach to designing, building and running mobile networks.
Ashton shared that the study also revealed that the number one factor that determines operator loyalty for customers is network performance.
Given the shift in usage patterns from voice to data, it is only a matter of time before operators are gauged on how well their service fares in delivering seamless and stable mobile connectivity.
When asked where he sees Malaysian operators in terms of catering to voice or data traffic, Ashton noted that as of now, a large chunk of revenue still comes from voice and SMS.
“So it is natural to assume that many operators are still optimising their revenue channels which are skewed to voice,” he added.
Ashton also said that operators are already aware of the big change in customer behaviour and the demand for an optimised experience for the applications they use.
“We expect that Malaysian mobile subscribers will indeed increase their mobile monthly data consumption, as its citizens are considered early adopters and innovators when it comes to technology,” he said.
“It’s already apparent in the data that we have gathered. Today, as we have seen, Malaysian app usage is ahead compared with its neighbours in South-East Asia and even in Oceania,” he added.
Ashton noted that the drive for network redesign would be based on how operators want to serve their customers, adding that Ericsson has already observed the beginnings of the transition phase.
“We see all operators being very active in trying to provide ubiquitous coverage and performance. There is no nationwide coverage for LTE just yet which would enable the delivery of more data traffic,” he added.
To read the Ericsson June 2013 Mobility Report [PDF] in full, click here.
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