The telco problem is how to sell all the capacity coming online. Cisco's Visual Network Index offers the best data anywhere on current mobile trends as well as respected future forecasts. You can spend hours on the report. Skip quickly over the discussion at the top, which emphasizes select data points suggesting growth. Jump into the charts and tables. Here're some of the first things I noticed.

Traffic growth NA 2016 2020Growth in the U.S. is down to 50%/year and predicted to fall below 40%. Traffic soared as people first acquired smartphones, over 100% for a couple of years. 75% of the devices in the U.S. today are smart. "Average smartphone usage grew 43 percent in 2015. The average amount of traffic per smartphone in 2015 was 929 MB per month, up from 648 MB per month in 2014." The smartphone conversion still has a way to go, perhaps to 95% in a few years. The new users will continue to raise the growth rate, but much less than in the past. On the other hand, only 12% of the devices in the Middle East and Africa are "smart." $50-$100 smartphones are already changing that rapidly. Cisco expects the percentage to rise to over 50% by 2020, driving traffic growth rates much higher. Africans are buying so many smartphones there will be more Africans on the web than Americans around 2018. Detailed table below


The economic impact of wireless growth will approach insignificance in the developed world.

 Traffic growth NA 2016 2020Unless you can demonstrate how watching more YouTube and football out of home has a major economic impact, claims like Fred Upton's "Wireless equals jobs" are mistaken. The bulk of growth will be people watching video and listening to music. That enriches our lives but not our income. The economic impact of wireless has been overestimated but is substantial. Smartphone navigation does save gas and time. We can all think of other examples. But almost everything in mobile with economic impact can be accomplished with today's phones and networks. New applications, especially IoT, generally require little additional bandwidth.

 Speeds are increasing rapidly, probably doubling by 2020. Everyone except lobbyists and the uninformed now realizes the "spectrum crisis" was hype in the U.S., most of Europe and in Australia. Speeds couldn't go up rapidly if spectrum were seriously short. (India, Indonesia and Africa, are and will be predominantly wireless because they have so few landlines. They need all the capacity/spectrum they can get.) 

In the 2013 VNI, Cisco wrote, "Globally, the average mobile network connection speed in 2012 was 526 kbps. The average speed will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 49 percent, and will exceed 3.9 Mbps in 2017. Smartphone speeds, generally third-generation (3G) and higher, are currently almost four times higher than the overall average. Smartphone speeds will triple by 2017, reaching 6.5 Mbps." North America passed that speed in 2015. As LTE & LTE-A phones take over, I predict even faster improvement.

 Table 4.       Global and Regional Projected Average Mobile Network Connection Speeds (in kbps)

          

2015

2016

2017

2018

2019

2020

CAGR 
2015–2020

Global

Global speed: All handsets

 2.0

 2.4

 3.1

 3.9

 5.1

 6.5

26%

Global speed: Smartphones

 7.5

 8.3

 9.2

 9.9

 11.1

 12.5

11%

Global speed: Tablets

 11.6

 12.8

 13.9

 15.0

 15.6

 16.2

7%

By Region

Asia Pacific

2.4

3.6

4.6

5.7

7.0

8.6

29%

Latin America

1.5

1.9

2.5

3.1

3.9

4.9

27%

North America

5.9

7.9

9.9

12.1

13.7

15.3

21%

Western Europe

4.1

6.1

8.3

10.5

12.2

14.1

28%

Central and Eastern Europe

2.3

3.4

5.6

7.8

9.1

10.6

36%

Middle East and Africa

0.8

1.3

1.9

2.6

3.6

4.8

45%

 

 

Table 5.       Global Mobile Data Traffic, 2015–2020

          

2015

2016

2017

2018

2019

2020

CAGR
2015–2020

By Application Category (TB per Month)

Web, data, and VoIP

 1,323,168

 1,968,121

 2,779,705

 3,605,388

 4,427,061

 5,158,487

31%

Video

 2,031,425

 3,643,337

 6,232,592

 9,977,073

 15,410,948

 22,963,742

62%

Audio streaming

 279,209

 462,019

 722,780

 1,034,665

 1,398,055

 1,788,347

45%

File sharing

 51,263

 106,541

 196,021

 317,269

 472,307

 653,641

66%

By Device Type (TB per Month)

Nonsmartphones

 89,630

 116,220

 149,247

 191,088

 229,720

 278,748

25%

Smartphones

 2,818,199

 4,829,911

 7,872,495

 11,907,415

 17,419,671

 24,680,894

54%

PCs

 335,456

 424,821

 527,909

 648,242

 784,194

 950,573

23%

Tablets

 341,492

 576,053

 907,033

 1,341,790

 1,913,915

 2,594,619

50%

M2M

 99,222

 232,037

 473,628

 845,228

 1,360,348

 2,058,795

83%

Other portable devices

 1,065

 975

 786

 633

 524

 588

-11%

By Region (TB per Month)

North America

 557,237

 831,457

 1,199,309

 1,700,159

 2,327,596

 3,208,203

42%

Western Europe

 432,322

 707,537

 1,045,171

 1,477,156

 2,060,788

 2,795,362

45%

Asia Pacific

 1,578,865

 2,676,873

 4,422,785

 6,725,446

 9,771,677

 13,712,874

54%

Latin America

 276,416

 447,991

 714,540

 1,065,744

 1,521,312

 2,091,703

50%

Central and Eastern Europe

 545,750

 946,263

 1,510,630

 2,242,669

 3,249,449

 4,442,281

52%

Middle East and Africa

 294,476

 569,895

 1,038,661

 1,723,221

 2,777,550

 4,313,794

71%

Total (TB per Month)

Total Mobile Data Traffic

 3,685,066

 6,180,017

 9,931,098

 14,934,395

 21,708,372

 30,564,217

53%

Source: Cisco, 2016

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