Mobile technology trends: traffic by application category

Mobile video traffic is becoming increasingly dominant

Key highlights

  • The growth of mobile video traffic is a continuing trend
  • In 2022, video will account for around 75% of mobile data traffic
  • The share of video traffic is approaching 60% on tablets

Mobile video traffic is forecast to grow by around 50 percent annually through 2022 to account for nearly 3 quarters of all mobile data traffic.1 Social networking is expected to grow by 39 percent annually over the coming 6 years. However, its relative share of traffic will decline from 15 percent in 2016 to around 10 percent in 2022, as a result of the stronger growth in the video category. Other application categories have annual growth rates ranging from 19 to 34 percent, so are shrinking as a proportion of overall traffic. Additionally, the use of embedded video in social media and web pages continues to grow, fueled by larger device screens, higher resolution and new platforms supporting live streaming. Embedded video in social media and web pages is counted as video traffic. 

Mobile traffic by application category CAGR 2015-2022

The emergence of new applications can shift the relative volumes of different types of traffic, although the proliferation of different sized smart devices will also affect the traffic mix; for example, tablets are associated with a higher share of video traffic than smartphones. Typically, tablets and smartphones are used equally for watching short video content, but tablets are used more for watching longer video content.

Mobile traffic by application category per month

Video traffic dominates across devices

Average values from measurements3 in a selected number of commercial HSPA and LTE networks in the Americas, Asia and Europe show that, regardless of device type, video is the largest contributor to traffic volumes. However, there is a large variation between networks.

Compared to similar measurements done in the second half of 2015, the share of video traffic is still increasing on tablets, approaching 60 percent of total traffic. On smartphones, the share of video traffic is slightly lower than 12 months ago. YouTube still dominates video traffic in most mobile networks, although it’s being challenged by local players in some countries. YouTube traffic accounts for between 40–70 percent of total video traffic for almost all measured networks, regardless of device type. Netflix is available in most markets now and, in some, its share of video traffic can reach 10–20 percent of total mobile video traffic. In other markets, Netflix’s share of traffic is still very small. 

Mobile data traffic volumes by application category and device type

The traffic share of traditional social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, has decreased for all device types, as usage has shifted towards more communication-oriented services like Snapchat and WhatsApp. Traffic for these services is included in the real-time communications category in the figure above. Social networking is, however, still the second largest traffic volume contributor for smartphones.

The share of traffic for software updates has increased slightly since last measurements, presumably due to more frequent updates of apps.

File sharing is more prominent on mobile PCs than on other devices, but overall is decreasing, constituting around 5 percent of traffic. The very small proportion of file sharing associated with smartphones and tablets comes predominantly from tethering traffic. 

3 Measurements do not include Wi-Fi traffic. ‘Other’ includes application categories not possible to identify or that aren’t one of the listed application types.

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Mobile traffic statistics Q3 2016

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