Why more people will use mobile data than running water by 2021

By 2021, more people around the world will be using mobile phones than bank accounts, running water or landlines, according to research from Cisco. Here's why.

By 2021, more people around the world will be using mobile data than bank accounts, running water or landlines, according to research from Cisco.

An in-depth study into current and projected mobile use around the world reveals that in four short years, 5.5 billion people will have access to mobile technology; significantly greater than the 5.4 billion people with access to banking, and 5.3 billion with access to running water.

According to Cisco, the world will see a 7-fold increase in mobile data traffic, spurred by strong growth in mobile users, smartphones and internet of things (IoT) connections as well as network speed improvements and mobile video content.

“With the proliferation of IoT, live mobile video, augmented and virtual reality applications, and more innovative experiences for consumer and business users alike, 5G technology will have significant relevance not just for mobility but rather for networking as a whole,” said Doug Webster, vice president of service provider marketing. “As a result, broader and more extensive architectural transformations involving programmability and automation will also be needed to support the capabilities 5G enables, and to address not just today’s demands but also the extensive possibilities on the horizon.”

Mobile milestones by 2021

  • Mobile data traffic will make up 20 per cent of total IP traffic—up from just 8 per cent of total IP traffic in 2016.
  • 1.5 mobile devices per capita. Nearly 12 billion mobile-connected devices (up from 8 billion and 1.1 per capita in 2016), including M2M modules.
  • Mobile network connection speeds will increase threefold from 6.8 Mbps in 2016 to 20.4 Mbps by 2021.
  • Machine-to-machine (M2M) connections will represent 29 percent (3.3 billion) of total mobile connections—up from 5 per cent (780 million) in 2016. M2M will be the fastest growing mobile connection type as global Internet of Things (IoT) applications continue to gain traction in consumer and business environments.
  • 4G will support 58 per cent of total mobile connections by 2021—up from 26 per cent in 2016 and will account for 79 per cent of total mobile data traffic.
  • The total number of smartphones (including phablets) will be over 50 percent of global devices and connections (6.2 billion)—up from 3.6 billion in 2016.

The market will propel 5G connectivity

Cisco forecasts that 5G will account for 1.5 per cent of total mobile data traffic by 2021, and will generate 4.7 times more traffic than the average 4G connection and 10.7 times more traffic than the average 3G connection.

The explosion of mobile applications and adoption of mobile connectivity by end users will propel 5G growth. Cisco and other industry experts anticipate large-scale deployments of 5G infrastructures to begin by 2020. Mobile carriers will need the innovative speed, low latency, and dynamic provisioning capabilities that 5G networks are expected to deliver to address not just increasing subscriber demands but also new services trends across mobile, residential, and business markets.

Mobile data centre traffic will boom

By 2021, global mobile data traffic will reach 49 exabytes per month or 587 exabytes annually.

According to Cisco, the annual run rate of mobile data traffic will be 587 exabytes by 2021, which is 122 times more than the traffic generated in 2011 through MMS. 

Live video on mobile set to grow

Mobile video will represent 78 per cent of all mobile traffic by 2021.

Mobile video will increase 8.7-fold from 2016 to 2021, and will have the highest growth rate of any mobile application category. Live mobile video will grow 39-fold from 2016 to 2021. Live mobile video will represent 5 per cent of total mobile video traffic by 2021.

Growth in Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR)

Globally, VR and AR traffic will grow exponentially (11-fold and 7-fold) in the next four years.

For context, VR immerses users in a simulated environment, while AR is an overlay of technology on the real world. Applications such as virtual reality (VR) are adding to the adoption of wearables such as headsets. VR headsets are going to grow from 18 million in 2016 to nearly 100 million by 2021— a fivefold growth.

Global connected wearable devices will drive M2M growth

Cisco estimates there will be 929 million wearable devices globally, growing nearly threefold from 325 million in 2016.

Globally, the number of wearable devices with embedded cellular connections will reach 69 million in number by 2021—up from 11 million in 2016.


Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for GrowthBusiness.co.uk from 2016 to 2018.

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Mobile Phones and Devices