Mobile data traffic is going to start leveling off, with 2015 being the last year that volume will grow by more than 50 percent annually, according to a new report from ABI Research.
The firm said the global volume of mobile data traffic will exceed 107 exabytes in 2017, eight times more than what is expected for 2012. However, the rate of growth will start slowing after 2015 despite "the fact that the monthly average per wireless subscriber, worldwide, will increase to almost 1.5 gigabytes by the end of our forecasting period," said Aapo Markkanen, ABI senior analyst.
Part of the reason for the predicted slowdown is that on-demand video content will be increasingly be viewed on non-cellular networks. "Netflix, for example, recently added to its iOS app a simple function by which users can limit their viewing to Wi-Fi only and thereby avoid overage charges. Besides accidental video streams, app downloads and updates are another activity that can be easily steered onto fixed networks," said ABI.
Also helping stem usage is the fact that inadvertent data consumption, often caused by spectrum-inefficient apps, will be reduced at the OS and application levels over the next couple of years. For example, known data hogs such as high-end smartphones based on Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android OS are having their data usage reined in, with both Android and Google Play making it easier for end users to monitor and control their data usage, said ABI.
This past February, Cisco also projected an impending slowdown in mobile data volume growth. According to Cisco, global mobile data traffic more than doubled in 2011--growing by 133 percent--and Cisco projects that it will double again in 2012, but at a slightly lower rate of 110 percent growth. The company said annual growth rates will continue to taper off, to 90 percent in 2013 and 78 percent in 2014.
However, not everyone agrees with ABI's arguments. GigaOM noted that although offloading of data traffic from cellular networks is catching on, Cisco has estimated that only 22 percent of mobile traffic will go over Wi-Fi in 2016, leaving a lot to flow over cellular networks. In addition, GigaOM said it is likely that the overall user base for data will grow over the next three years as prices for smartphones fall and network infrastructures are improved. Further, emerging Web-based activities could drive more mobile data use.
Is cellular connectivity a necessity for tablet users?
Analyst: Cellular-enabled tablet sales to drop through 2016
Study: Data speed is more critical than voice coverage for smartphone users
Madden: Satisfying the demand for mobile data
Cisco: Mobile video will reach 1.6 billion users in 2016
Cisco: Global mobile data traffic to increase 18-fold by 2016