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Mobile traffic by application category

In the Ericsson Mobility Report June 2017, we highlight that mobile video traffic is increasingly dominant.


Key findings

  • The growth of mobile video traffic is a continuing trend
  • In 2022, video traffic will account for nearly three quarters of all mobile data traffic
  • Social networking and instant messaging are the second most popular internet activities

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. Social networking is expected to grow by 38 percent annually over the next 6 years. However, its relative share of traffic will decline from 13 percent in 2016 to around 11 percent in 2022, as a result of the stronger growth in video. 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 webpages continues to grow, fueled by larger device screens, higher resolution and new platforms supporting live streaming. Embedded video in social media and webpages is counted as video traffic in the forecast and network measurements. 

Graph: Mobile traffic by app category

The emergence of new applications can shift the relative volumes of different types of traffic, and 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, smartphones are used more than tablets for watching short video content, but tablets are used more for watching longer video content.1

Graph: Mobile data traffic by application category per month

Video traffic dominates across devices

Average values from measurements in a selected number of commercial HSPA and LTE networks in the Americas, Asia and Europe in 2016 show that,  regardless of device type, video was the largest  contributor to traffic volumes. However, there was a large variation between networks. 

Graph: Mobile data traffic volumes by application category and device type

Compared to similar measurements made in the second half of 2015, the share of video traffic was still increasing on tablets, approaching 60 percent of total traffic in the second half of 2016. On smartphones, the share of video traffic was slightly lower than 12 months earlier. YouTube still dominates video traffic in most mobile networks, although it is being challenged by local players in some countries. YouTube traffic accounts for 40–70 percent of total video traffic for almost all measured networks, regardless of device type. YouTube is also the most used on-demand video service in the world, with 70 percent of consumers using it at least on a weekly basis.2 Netflix is now available in most markets, and in some places 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.

The share of traditional social network traffic (excluding embedded video), such as Facebook and Twitter, decreased for all device types, while more communication-oriented services like Snapchat and WhatsApp increased. Traffic for these services is included in the real-time communications category in the figure above. However, social networking was still the second largest traffic volume contributor for smartphones. Consumer research shows that social networking and instant messaging are the second most popular internet activities for consumers, with over 65 percent of internet users utilizing the services daily. Only general internet browsing is more popular, with over 85 percent of users doing it daily.3

The share of traffic for software updates increased slightly compared to measurements in 2015, presumably due to more frequent updates of apps.

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

1 Ericsson ConsumerLab, TV and Media (2016)

2 Ericsson ConsumerLab, TV and Media (2016). Base: Population aged 16–69 watching TV/video at least weekly and having broadband at home in Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, UK and USA

3 Ericsson ConsumerLab Analytical Platform (2016). Base: Internet users aged 16–69 from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, Hungary, India, Italy, Japan, Nigeria, South Africa, Spain, Thailand, UAE, UK, USA, Vietnam