The world is going mobile. A new study by Cisco indicates that mobile data traffic will skyrocket over the next four years. By 2018, mobile data traffic on 3G and 4G networks could increase by at least ten-fold.
The reports says that by 2018, the annual run rate of mobile data around the world will reach 190 exbytes. In 2013, the yearly mobile data run rate was only 18 exbytes. When you consider the fact that one exbyte is equivalent to one billion gigabytes. In order to reach 190 exbytes of data, mobile device users around the world would have to play four trillion four-minute video clips. It doesn't even seem possible and yet Cisco assures us that not only is it possible, it will happen in just four years.
"What's driving this growth is a shift in device mix toward smarter devices," said Arielle Sumits, an analyst at Cisco. With tablet and smartphone sales on the rise all around the world, Cisco says that mobile data traffic will only continue to increase.
"It's more people, more connections, faster speeds on the networks and then more rich content, which in this case is video, video, video," Robert Pepper, Cisco's vice president for global technology policy said.
Mobile data traffic is expected to increase by 8-fold in the United States alone. Cisco predicts that mobile data use in the United States will hit 2.7 exbytes a month in 2018, a remarkable increase from the half exbyte Americans used in 2013.
In order to keep up with the rapidly growing demand for high-speed data, the infrastructure that makes mobile data use possible will have to improve significantly. Already, mobile networks have a serious problem with congestion. The problem is that there are currently only so many air wave channels open and they simply won't be able to keep up with user demand for mobile data.
"If we don't add more spectrum in the long term, what it means for cellular networks is congestion, particularly in the peak hours and particularly in urban areas," said Mary Brown, Cisco's director of government affairs.
Some providers have tried to alleviate these problems with Wi-Fi, but it is really more of a band-aid than a solution. The answer is adding more spectrum, so that there are enough channels for the data to travel to all of the mobile devices around the world.
"Even as networks get more and more powerful, they're certainly continuing to add to the amount of traffic that's traveling over both cellular and Wi-Fi networks," Brown added. "We're going to need more than just technological improvements to satisfy those demand curves. We're going to need more spectrum."