Mobile data traffic outlook

In 2025, 5G networks will carry nearly half of the world’s mobile data traffic.

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Key findings

  • Global mobile data traffic is forecast to reach 38 exabytes per month by the end of 2019, and increase to 160 exabytes per month in 2025.
  • By 2025, we predict that 5G networks will carry 45 percent of total mobile data traffic.
  • Although there are large variations in traffic growth across regions, drivers remain the same.
Global mobile data traffic (EB per month)

Global total mobile data traffic is expected to reach around 38 exabytes per month by the end of the year, and is projected to grow by a factor of 4 to reach 160 exabytes per month in 2025. It represents the mobile data that over 6 billion people will consume using smartphones, laptops and a multitude of new devices 6 years from now.

Smartphones continue to be at the epicenter of this development as they generate most of the mobile data traffic – more than 90 percent today and 95 percent projected in 2025.

Populous markets that are early with 5G are likely to lead traffic growth over the forecast period. By 2025, we expect that 45 percent of total mobile data traffic will be carried by 5G networks.[1]

Large variations in traffic growth across regions

Traffic growth can be very volatile between years and can also vary significantly between countries, depending on local market dynamics. In the US, the traffic growth rate declined slightly during 2018 but recovered to previously expected growth rates during 2019. In China, 2018 was a year of record traffic growth. India‘s traffic growth continued its trajectory and it remains the region with the highest usage per smartphone and month.

Globally, the increase in mobile data traffic per smartphone can be attributed to three main drivers: improved device capabilities, an increase in data-intensive content and more affordable data plans.

By 2025, 500 million additional smartphone users are expected in India

In the India region, the average monthly mobile data usage per smartphone has seen an extraordinary increase in recent years, becoming the highest in the world. A key factor has been the rapid adoption of 4G, boosted by a disruptive entrant in the market in 2016. Low prices for mobile broadband services,[2] affordable smartphones and people’s changing video viewing habits have continued to drive monthly usage growth in the region. Only 4 percent of households have fixed broadband, making smartphones the only way to access the internet[3] in many cases.

Total traffic is projected to triple, reaching 22EB per month in 2025. This comes from two factors: high growth in the number of smartphone users and an increase in average usage per smartphone. A total of 500 million additional smartphone users are expected in India by 2025. Even if the traffic per existing smartphone user continues to grow significantly over time, the increase in the average traffic per smartphone is expected to moderate as more consumers in India acquire smartphones. In addition, the mass-market adoption of advanced use cases fueled by 5G is expected later in India than in other regions. Nevertheless, the average monthly traffic per smartphone is expected to increase to around 24GB in 2025.

Mobile data traffic per smartphone (GB per month)

In North America, future monthly GB growth depends on 5G services adoption

The monthly average usage of mobile data in North America is expected to reach 45GB per smartphone by 2025. The major service providers have all launched 5G, initially focused on building capacity in the high- and mid-band spectrum. On top of that, we expect 5G in low-band, increased penetration of 5G devices, and early 5G adopters to drive traffic growth. But even if there is strong traffic growth today, the adoption of immersive consumer services using VR and AR is expected to lead to big increases in traffic per smartphone toward the end of the period. By 2025 the penetration of 5G subscriptions is set to be the highest of all regions at 74 percent.

The Western Europe traffic growth rate follows a similar pattern to that expected in North America. However, the more fragmented market situation is expected to lead to later mass-market adoption of 5G and therefore a somewhat lower traffic per smartphone in 2025 than North America.

North East Asia traffic growth rate reaches an all-time high

Attractive data plans, as well as innovative mobile apps and content, have pushed up monthly mobile data usage in North East Asia, particularly in China. The rapid growth in smartphone subscriptions is expected to continue, with China alone set to add around 170 million smartphone subscriptions between 2019 and 2025, further driving data traffic growth. With 5G set to capture a lot of early adopters, we continue to expect high growth numbers in North East Asia. In South Korea, 5G mobile data traffic per subscriber exceeded 25GB per month in August.

The Middle East and Africa region is expected to have the highest growth rate during the forecast period, increasing total mobile data traffic by a factor of 7 between 2019 and 2025. The average data per smartphone is expected to reach 18GB per user per month in 2025 in the Middle East and Africa region – as Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to reach on average 7GB.

South East Asia and Latin America are expected to follow similar trends over the next six years on a regional level, while the individual countries can show very different growth rates for traffic per smartphone. Traffic growth is driven by coverage build-out and continued adoption of 4G, linked to a rise in smartphone subscriptions and increases in average data usage per smartphone. The data traffic per smartphone is expected to reach 21GB and 22GB per month respectively in South East Asia and Latin America.

In Central and Eastern Europe, growth is also fueled by 4G adoption but the region has a somewhat higher traffic per subscriber starting point. Over the forecast period, the monthly traffic per smartphone is expected to increase from 6GB to 24GB per month.

It is important to bear in mind that there are significant variations in monthly data consumption within regions, with individual countries and service providers having considerably higher monthly consumption than any regional averages.

[1] - Our traffic forecast does not include traffic generated by fixed wireless access (FWA) services, as it is not yet possible to estimate this traffic.
However, as FWA is one of the early use cases planned for 5G in some regions, it could significantly impact the overall traffic, depending on market uptake
[2] - Worldwide data pricing
[3] -  GlobalData, India Telecom Operators Country Intelligence Report (2019)