According to a report by Ericsson, data traffic over all mobile networks reached around 2,000 petabytes (2,000 x 1015 bytes) in the fourth quarter of 2013, an increase of 70 percent year-over-year and a 15 percent increase over the third quarter of 2013. The Swedish company’s monitoring of a sample of mobile networks worldwide showed little growth in voice traffic, however. It found that the number of mobile subscriptions increased by 1.5 percent, to 6.7 billion at the end of 2013. China and India each accounted for around 20 percent of subscriber additions in Q4 and the rest of Asia another 20 percent. Mobile broadband subscribers grew by around 40 percent year-on-year to 2.1 billion, and LTE subscribers numbered 200 million by the end of 2013. Ericsson estimates that only 30 percent of mobile subscribers have smartphones.
While it is now well known that the future of mobile revenue is in data, not voice, Ericsson’s survey reveals just how quickly that future is arriving and how stark the contrast is. A 70 percent increase in data traffic in just one year is a truly astonishing figure, especially when compared to the figure of only 1.5 percent for growth in mobile subscriptions. This data-traffic increase is overwhelmingly ascribable to existing mobile customers consuming more. Considering that mobile penetration stands at 90 percent in China, 72 percent in Africa and 59 percent in India, there is tremendous potential for further growth in data use. And seeing that less than a third of mobile subscribers have the capacity to use data and that LTE subscribers represent only 3 percent of the total, last year’s growth in data traffic is likely to look modest rather than huge by the end of 2014. While we have been counseling operators not to let themselves devolve into “dumb pipes” or conduits of data for services controlled by others—and we stand by our advice—undoubtedly there is still plenty of revenue to be had from data charges alone.