Data Usage Goes Right Up as the 4G Network Expands

4G network

You may have wondered exactly how the world knows the trends on data use. This is because there is a tracker called the Cisco® Visual Networking Index (VNI). This tracks global mobile data traffic through its comprehensive Cisco VNI forecasting tools.

The tracking tool has revealed that there has been an unprecedented increase in data usage between the end of 2014 and 2015. In 12 months alone, mobile data traffic globally rose 74 percent. While the monthly traffic was only 2.1 exabytes in 2014, it reached a monthly average of 3.7 exabytes just a year later. To put it more simply this is a 4,000 fold rise in 10 years and in 15 years a rise of 400 million fold!

(An exabyte is 1,000,000,000GB!)

Faster 4G has Contributed to Recent Data Rises Globally

It’s of no surprise how a faster fourth-generation (4G) connection has contributed to these marked increases recently. Despite 4G connections only making up 14% of all mobile connections in 2015, they already make up 47% of mobile data traffic. 3G represents 34% of all mobile connections but carries only 43% of the data traffic. In summary, this means a 4G connection carried six times the traffic than a connection that was not 4G.

It can’t be emphasized more that due to the sharp increase in mobile applications and the staggering embracing of mobile connectivity by the end user that there has been a growth surge of global 4G deployment and adoption. It’s not just about meeting customer demand but about profit incentives too. Global service providers are quickly rolling out 4G networks in order to meet the rise in the demand by the end-users for more bandwidth, faster mobile connectivity and an increase in security. 4G is growing so fast that by 2020 over 40% of all global connections and devices will be 4G enabled. That amounts to 4.7 billion connections by 2020.

4G Responsible for Data Traffic Surges

In 2015 traffic on 4G overtook 3G traffic, now representing the biggest share by network type for mobile data access with the expectation that it will control by 2020 72% of the total.

At the moment, a 4G connection produces six times the traffic of any other connection. This is mainly due to the fact that most 4G enabled devices are high end products which attract more than average use. Also because of the prevalence of higher speeds it encourages the adoption and use of higher-bandwidth applications. So the higher end users are upfront with both device compatibility and 4G adoption.

Mobile Device Use Sees Rises Too

In 2015 there were an additional 563 million mobile devices, mainly smart phones and connections that came into use. This in total numbers is 7.9 billion devices. Smart devices are considered those that have mobile connections with advanced computing and multimedia options, with at least 3G connectivity and these made up 36% of 2015 total mobile devices and connections and carried 89% of all mobile data traffic.

Speed of Connections Encourages More Use

The overall increase in data traffic goes hand in hand with an increase in connection speeds. Users are spurred into wanting to tap into data if they know the speeds are good. It’s no coincidence that speeds rose 20% in 2015 to a whopping 2,026 kilobytes per second (kbps), while in 2014 the speed was around 1,683 kbps.

 Video Use Sees Increases Too

Video use on mobile devices took 55% of the total of mobile data use in 2015. This comes of no surprise, as uninterrupted video viewing is only made possible as connection speed increases. With smart phone technology at its most advanced level the average amount of data downloaded per smart phone per month topped 929 MB, while in 2014 it was a mere 648 MB. Even though smart phone ownership amounted to 43% of total handsets globally, it represented 97% of all data movement.

iOS Ahead of Android Use

iOS mobile devices, which include both tablets and smart phones, were just ahead of Android for data usage in 2015. This was particularly noticeable in Western Europe and North America.

There is another group of devices. This is the wearable category. There are 97 million of these devices in use globally and in 2015 they used 15 petabytes of traffic monthly.

(A petabyte is 1,000 TB or 1,000,000 GB)

 Tablets Exceed Smart Phone Use but PC’s Download More

In 2015, the number of tablets with mobile connectivity features rose 1.3-fold to an ownership of 133 million. Each tablet accessed 2.8 times data traffic than did the average smart phone. This meant that 2,576MB of data were used every month compared to smart phone’s 929 MB. There are still other means of accessing data and that’s through a PC which achieved on average 2.7GB for every PC of which there are 125 million connected through the mobile network.

 Can’t Forget Basic Handsets

Not everyone has the money to own a smart phone or tablet so non smart phones still make up the majority of mobile phone ownership which globally stands at 57%. Accessing data has increased too, rising from 16MB monthly in 2014 to 23MB in 2015.

 The Mobile Network Future to 2020

Cisco VNI Forecasting tools have come up with some useful projections for worldwide mobile data use by 2020 as indicated below which we all really want to know about:

  • 6 exabytes monthly mobile data
  • 4G will be the highest data receiver for mobile devices and will have more than 50% of total mobile data traffic
  • Smart phones will take 80% of data traffic on mobile devices and will make up 50% of all devices
  • 75% of the earth’s data will come through video
  • 5 mobile-connected devices per person will be the norm with device numbers topping 11.6 billion
  • 5 megabits per second will be mobile connection speeds
  • 4G will leap ahead to 3.3 times more traffic than other slower connections
  • 4 GB will be the average monthly data traffic for one smart phone
  • 6 billion IPv6-capable devices to be released
  • Africa and the Middle East will show the greatest mobile traffic data increases.

 Where Wi-Fi Fits in These Days

With greater acceptance of Wi-Fi to access data, coupled with Mobile Network Operator’s acceptance of it, Wi-Fi along with mobiles are growing far faster than traffic coming through devices connected to a fixed network using Ethernet. Accessing data through Wi-Fi hotspots is a cheaper way of getting online than through the cellular phone networks directly. This means that Wi-Fi traffic from mobile devices and Wi-Fi-only devices will make up by 2019 around 53% of total IP traffic which will be an increase from 41% in 2014.

 IPv6 Will Mean Unique Addresses for All

Up to now IPv4 has been providing addresses for current protocol devices which they use for communication purposes on the Internet. These addresses have virtually all been used up but the better IPv6 protocol provides extra benefits where all devices will have on the Internet a worldwide routable public IP address. IPv6 has 340 undecillion addresses which will help smart devices as well as the Internet of Everything (IoE) become a reality.

You May Have Heard of 5G

It doesn’t take too much to realise what 5th Generation or 5G is, as it is likely to be the next stage for mobile technology. The gains over 4G will be increases in bandwidth which will exceed 1 Gbps, far broader cover and an ultra-low latency. While 4G has been rapidly on the move due to the availability of more devices and the need for better information access, 5G will be largely driven by its relationship with IoE applications.

It is envisaged that 5G technology should be better equipped to find solutions to spectrum management issues and frequency licensing. There is no certainty about the financial benefits of rolling out 5G and nothing is likely to happen at this stage until post 2020. We can all sit back and relax, at least for the moment, with our current 4G compatible communication devices.

Where Australia Stands in the Global Data Jungle

Australia has been fairing pretty well in the global data stakes and is in 8th position for 4G speeds with averages of 32.5Mbps and it’s available to 79.34% of the population which puts it in 13th place globally. OpenSignal revealed this information in a recent report it released. It doesn’t use geographic coverage or overall population but it gauges its figures on the amount of time that users are able to access a 4G network. Their figures might not quite match those suggested by Optus, Telstra and Vodafone.

South Korea leads the field at 95.71% while the U.S. offers 92.03% coverage while New Zealand trailed in 55th place globally, offering availability to just 57.8% of its population. When it comes to speed, Singapore leads the way with breakneck speeds of 45.86Mbps and New Zealand offering average speeds of 34.94Mbps.

OpenSignal’s reporting was disputed a year ago, showing that the Australian population’s access to 4G stood at an average of 74% with speeds of 21Mbps. At the same time, Australian telcos said their 4G network coverage exceeded 90% and now they indicate that for Telstra 98% is covered, for Optus 95% coverage and Vodafone 95.3% coverage.

1800MHz Spectrum Offers More 4G in Australia

Optus recently announced its expansion intentions for its 4G network in Canberra through the use of its securing of the 1,800MHz spectrum at the auction of the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) earlier on this year. The telco spent AU$196 million at the February auction of the 1,800MHz spectrum. Vodafone has followed in the steps of Optus by upgrading its network at 84 sites in Canberra with its 1,800MHz spectrum.

Kevin Milroy, Vodafone’s CEO, said that through its investments the telco had gone through a range of upgrading in its attempts to offer better reliability, performance and speed, and performance competing favourably with its rivals. Telstra hasn’t been left dragging its feet either and has concentrated through its 1,800MHz spectrum of boosting its 4G network covering 200 additional sites in South Australia and North Queensland.

The Federal government has been in on the act recently by announcing its decision to auction the 2x 15MHz of the spectrum 700MHz band that was left over at the 2013 auction of digital dividends. This came after Vodafone Australia’s suggestion of buying the whole spectrum outright.

The portion of the 700MHz spectrum that was auctioned in 2013 by ACMA is used for extra 4G mobile broadband covering long distances.


Australia’s 3 main telcos continue battling with each other to get the lion’s share of customers on their 4G networks. In conjunction with their efforts, high speed accessible mobile data services are just about becoming bread and butter for so many network users that there is no turning back in the quest for supremacy by network providers.

Already, the majority of people consider that mobile data, voice, and video are now quickly becoming a necessary ingredient in their lives. They are now used extensively by both individual consumers and businesses alike and new, less developed countries are pushing ahead with faster speeds as much as the more developed world.

Mobile subscribers are skyrocketing in numbers and bandwidth availability for video and data is moving that way too. It has been projected that in the next five years mobile video will become more widely adopted. Backhaul capacity has to increase so that mobile broadband, video services and data access are able to effectively provide the necessary support to consumers while keeping down the costs of mobile infrastructure.



Neil Aitken

Having worked in 3 countries for 4 telcos on both voice and data products, Neil is in a position to give you the inside track. Get beyond the marketing messages to the best plan for you.