5G will start moving the needle on mobile data growth in 2020: Cisco VNI

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The latest Cisco Visual Networking Index is forecasting a seven-fold increase in global mobile data traffic from 2016 to 2021, with 5G traffic expected to start having a relatively small but measurable impact on mobile growth starting in 2020.

According to Cisco’s 11th annual VNI, more members of the global population will be using mobile phones (5.5 billion) than bank accounts (5.4 billion), running water (5.3 billion), or landlines (2.9 billion) by 2021. Strong growth in mobile users, smartphones and IoT connections as well as network speed improvements and mobile video consumption are projected to increase mobile data traffic seven-fold over the next five years.

Source: Cisco Visual Networking Index Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update, 2016‑2021

By 2021, Cisco projects mobile data traffic to reach the following milestones:

  • By 2021, global mobile data traffic will reach 49 exabytes per month or 587 exabytes annually).
  • Mobile data traffic will represent 20% of total IP traffic – up from just 8% of total IP traffic in 2016.
  • 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% (3.3 billion) of total mobile connections – up from 5% (780 million) in 2016. M2M will be the fastest growing mobile connection type as global IoT applications continue to gain traction in consumer and business environments.
  • 4G will support 58% of total mobile connections by 2021 – up from 26% in 2016 – and will account for 79% of total mobile data traffic.
  • The total number of smartphones (including phablets) will be over 50% of global devices and connections (6.2 billion)—up from 3.6 billion in 2016.

The explosion of mobile applications and adoption of mobile connectivity by end users is fueling the growth of 4G, soon to be followed by 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. Cisco forecasts that 5G will account for 1.5% 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.

“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.”

Source: Cisco Visual Networking Index Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update, 2016‑2021

More key mobile data traffic projections and forecasted trends:

  1.  High growth for live video on mobile
  • Mobile video will increase 8.7-fold from 2016 to 2021 and will have the highest growth rate of any mobile application category. Mobile video will represent 78% of all mobile traffic by 2021.
  • Live mobile video will grow 39-fold from 2016 to 2021. Live mobile video will represent 5% of total mobile video traffic by 2021.
  1. Growth in virtual reality and augmented reality
  • 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.
  • Globally, VR traffic will grow 11-fold from 13.3 petabytes/month in 2016, to 140 petabytes/ month in 2021.
  • Globally, AR traffic will grow 7-fold between 2016 and 2021, from 3 petabytes/month in 2016 to 21 petabytes /month in 2021.
  1. Global connected wearable devices driving 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.
  1. Mobile data traffic offload to Wi-Fi networks
  • Wi-Fi traffic from both mobile devices and Wi-Fi-only devices together will account for almost half (49%) of total IP traffic by 2020, up from 42% in 2015.
  • Globally, total public Wi-Fi hotspots (including homespots) will grow six-fold from 2016 (94.0 million) to 2021 (541.6 million).
  • In 2016, monthly offload traffic (10.7 EB) exceeded monthly mobile/cellular traffic (7.2 EB).
  • In 2016, 60% of total mobile data traffic was offloaded; by 2021, 63% of total mobile data traffic will be offloaded.

Regional mobile data traffic growth (2016-2021)

  • Asia-Pacific will have 7-fold growth (2016: 37.3 exabytes/year; 2021: 274.2 exabytes/year)
  • The Middle East and Africa will have 12-fold growth (2016: 7.3 exabytes/year; 2021: 88.4 exabytes/year)
  • Latin America will have 6-fold growth (2016: 5.4 exabytes/year; 2021: 34.8 exabytes/year)
  • Central and Eastern Europe will have 6-fold growth (2016: 11.1 exabytes/year; 2021: 63.0 exabytes/year)
  • Western Europe will have 6-fold growth (2016: 8.8 exabytes/year; 2021: 50.3 exabytes/year)
  • North America will have 5-fold growth (2016: 16.9 exabytes/year; 2021: 76.8 exabytes/year)


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