Global Mobile Data Consumption Trends


There’s incredible growth in mobile data consumption in the last couple of years, yes, there is no stopping this data growth! According to the Cisco’s Visual Networking Index (VNI), there is a clear indication of a real explosion in mobile data. Take a look at some of the eye-opening trends:

  • Over the past five years, mobile data traffic has grown 18-fold
  • Global mobile data traffic increased 63 per cent in 2016 and reached 7.2 exabytes per month at the end of 2016
  • In 2016, 429 million mobile devices and connections were added
  • Smartphones represented only 45 per cent of total mobile devices and connections in 2016 but represented a whopping 81 per cent of total mobile traffic

As half of the world’s population is now connected to the internet, the world has reached a significant milestone in data usage. Let’s look at some trends to understand better:

Varied Trends…A Huge Data Consumption!

  1. I) Data Consumption by Device and Applications

Surge in Application Usage

The most amazing part is- there are 4 billion applications users worldwide. The year 2017 saw new trends in applications with the rise in augmented reality/virtual reality applications, on-demand applications, mobile payments, and IoT + wearables application. Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, Instagram have revolutionized the data consumption today. Don’t believe? Just look at the following stats:

  • Every 60 seconds on Facebook: 293,000 statuses are updated; 136,000 photos are uploaded, and 510,000 comments are posted- The Social Skinny
  • Twitter users tweet nearly 7,851 Tweets in 1 second- Internet Live Stats
  • On Instagram, almost 817 photos are uploaded in 1 second (And increasing each passing second)- Internet Live Stats

Video Streaming…The Highest Contributor to Data Consumption!!!

No doubt, video streaming has consumed highest data, as mobile video traffic accounted for 60 per cent of total mobile data traffic in 2016- Ericsson Mobility Report. Yes, video accounting for nearly half of all data consumed, thanks to YouTube which gobbled up almost 50-70% of all data traffic, followed by Netflix with 10-20% of cellular traffic.

Smartphone… A Ubiquitous Phenomenon!!!

The rise in data traffic and consumption is wholly attributed to smartphones. Just look at the percentage contributed, and you will get the point.

  • Mobile’s share of web traffic- 50 per cent (We Are Social)
  • Laptops and desktops- 45 per cent
  • Tablets- 5 per cent

At the same time, the data for second screening by device has shown tremendous growth in the mobile segment. Percentage of internet users who use mobile devices while:

  • Watching TV- 69 per cent (Global Web Index)
  • Using laptop and PC- 33 per cent
  • Tablets- 19 per cent
  1. II) Mobile Data Consumption by Region:

The Ericsson Mobility Report states that 90 per cent of the smartphone subscriptions are for 3G and 4G. This number has profoundly contributed to the increased data consumption in different regions globally.

  • For example, data consumption in North America accounts to 22 GB per consumer per month, and North America getting the top spot in the region-wise data consumption globally.
  • Western Europe follows with 18 GB of data consumption per month per consumer.
  • The Asia Pacific stands at the third place with 7 GB of data consumed per subscriber per month, which accounts nearly one-third that of North America.

III) Mobile Data Traffic by Region:

Mobile Data Traffic by Region ExaBytes per Month (2016)
Asia Pacific 3.7
North America 1.8
CEMA 1.4
Western Europe 1.2
Latin America 0.7


  • In terms of data traffic, Asia Pacific has the most significant share, accounting to7 exabytes per month. This immense growth is highly contributed by the smartphone boom in this region.
  • Next in line is the North America, followed by CEMA region and Western Europe, contributing the mobile data traffic of 1.8 exabytes, 1.4 exabytes and 1.2 exabytes per month respectively
  • Whereas, Latin America is at the bottom with 0.7 exabytes of mobile data traffic per month

figure 1

Figure 1: Global Mobile Data Traffic ( ExaBytes per Month)

Image Source: Ericsson Mobility Report

The Future
of Mobile Data…A skyrocket Phenomenon Indeed!

According to Cisco’s Visual Networking Index, global mobile data traffic will increase sevenfold between 2016 and 2021. This will represent a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 47 per cent. The data traffic will reach 49 exabytes per month by 2021 (See Figure 2).

figure 2

Figure 2: Mobile Data Traffic by 2021

Image Source: Cisco’s Visual Networking Index


And by 2021, there will be 1.5 mobile devices for every human, which means 11.6 billion mobile devices for an estimated global population of 7.8 billion.

Some other interesting facts from the Cisco’s update are:

  • Video will make up 78% of the world’s mobile data traffic by the end of 2021, representing a nine-fold increase from 2016 to 2021
  • By 2021, connected tablets and PCs will generate 8.0 GB of traffic per month, which is double over the 2016 average of 3.4 GB per month
  • Typical smartphones will churn out 6.8 GB of traffic per month, up four times from 6 GB average per month in 2016

As far as the regions are concerned,

  • Asia Pacific will account for 47 per cent of global mobile traffic by 2021, showing a CAGR of 49 percent and increasing 7-fold during the forecast period
  • North America, which had the second-largest traffic share in 2016, will be surpassed by CEMA region and Europe and will have only the fourth-largest share by 2021
  • The Middle East and Africa will show the highest CAGR of 65 percent, increasing 12-fold over the forecast period

figure 3

Figure 3: Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast by Region

Image Source: Cisco’s Visual Networking Index



As the penetration of powerful smartphones and tablets set to increase exponentially, it will result in more mobile data consumption. Although a great deal of the data can be expected to be offloaded to fixed networks by devices (e.g., Wi-Fi), the traffic growth on mobile networks will be still overwhelming.

Looking at this situation, Mobile Network Operators will be severely challenged to provide the much-needed network capacity expansion.

If not done so, the exponential growth in the data traffic and consumption will simply hamper their networks. As a result, there’s a strong need that MNOs will need to revamp their current network traffic management system.

MNOs need to understand that revenues will not keep up with increased data traffic proportionally, and therefore must come up network traffic management solutions. At the same time to thwart expenses in network traffic management, there is a need for a forecast on the trends in the user mobile data consumption behavioral traits.