Video dominates mobile traffic
Ericsson Mobility Calculator (EMC) is a tool to allow those with an interest in the mobile broadband (MBB) industry to explore the relationship between app usage and monthly data traffic volume per subscription.
Ericsson Mobility Report estimates total monthly traffic in mobile networks of 15 Exabytes in 2017 and forecasts 107 Exabytes in 2023. 56% of the traffic in 2017 was video related, and 73% is forecast for 2023. Over the same period, we project traffic per smartphone should increase from 3.4GB per month to 17GB. Keep in mind that these numbers are global averages, with North America standing out with an anticipated 49GB per smartphone subscription per month.
The EMC sums estimated traffic volume from five categories, including downloads, messaging, app traffic, audio streaming and video streaming. (Video embedded in social media and web browsing is counted under video streaming.) Filling in estimated usage of the various app types illustrates the sensitivity of video streaming to the calculation, and the progressively larger data consumption that comes with higher video resolutions and emerging formats.
An important caveat, as we enter into a discussion of video formats and use cases, is that there are no definitive bit rates for specific resolutions. They depend on many factors. For the bitrates used in the EMC tool, we have approached the subject from both the top down (theoretical estimations) and the bottom up (file analysis and network measurements). When setting the bitrates, we have taken a wide range of variables into consideration—including container, codec, profile, audio coding, overheads, and not least, content.
All the figures here are for calculating traffic volume, not for determining the bandwidth required for a good user experience—which is higher to reach target time-to-content or to eliminate rebuffering incidents due to data link variability.
Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are part of rapidly evolving ecosystems which include devices (smartphones, headsets, glasses, displays), sensors, cameras, SDKs, and application servers.
VR is already part of the gaming world, with 3D animation and 6 degrees of freedom—allowing a player to see realistic scene adjustments based on his/her changes in orientation and position. The challenges to apply the same techniques to live video are considerable, including economically rendering 3D (camera costs) and difficulties of occlusion (objects hidden from the camera which should be revealed as the viewer moves).
AR and mixed reality (with elements of both AR and VR) are rich with possibility for mobile applications. Network improvements in both round-trip times (RTT) and throughput will open opportunities from entertainment and navigation to industrial applications. Use cases can require vastly different data throughput, largely attributable to the size of the AR objects to be superimposed on real points of interest. Given a range of object sizes from a few hundred kilobytes to 10MB, the necessary bitrate (UL+DL) to render the “augmented” reality could vary from 2Mbps up to 1Gbps. To put this into perspective, using an app which requires a bit rate of 133Mbps for one minute would result in one GB of traffic. A Gigabit per second translates to 7.5 GB per minute. Clearly, at the upper end of the throughput scale, 5G will be necessary to provide enough bandwidth for complex AR applications.
In the Ericsson Mobility Calculator app, it is possible to set the total bitrate for the AR line in the calculation—allowing the user to explore the effect of various values.
While much attention is understandably focused on new and emerging video techniques, mechanisms and formats, one should keep in mind that the median resolution for video streamed over cellular networks at this time is estimated to be around 480p (varying from network to network).
Despite all the dependencies surrounding video bitrates and factors influencing usage, certain trends seem to hold:
- Streaming video consumes more data than any other application type, and continually grows as a proportion of all traffic
- There is a clear trend toward more data-intensive video formats
- Growing usage of “immersive” mechanisms, including 360° video and 3D will contribute to both the proportion of video traffic as well as overall traffic growth—and are used in AR and VR applications