Ericsson: North American smartphone usage to jump from 3.8 GB/month to 22 GB in 2021

Ericsson (NASDAQ: ERIC) expects average smartphone data usage in North America to grow nearly six-fold in the next six years, jumping from 3.8 GB per month in 2015 to 22 GB per month by the end of 2021. That growth will be driven by an increasing usage of streaming video as well as the advent of 5G networks. There will be 150 million 5G subscriptions globally by the end of 2021, according to a new report from the Swedish network vendor.

In Ericsson's latest Mobility Report, the vendor looks at current trends underpinning mobile broadband usage and growth and also provides a projection for the years ahead. Mobile data traffic continues to "grow strongly," the report said, with an expected 10-fold increase forecast by the end of 2021.

"Currently, there are as many mobile subscriptions as people in the world, and every second, 20 new mobile broadband subscriptions are activated," the report said. "In addition to the increase in subscribers, data consumption also continues to rise. Consequently, mobile data traffic in Q3 2015 was 65 percent higher than in Q3 2014, largely driven by increased video consumption on mobile devices."

Ericsson expects that almost 70 percent of all mobile data traffic will be from video by 2021. Out of a total forecast of 28 billion connected devices, more than 15 billion will be machine-to-machine (M2M) and consumer electronic devices by 2021, the firm said.

The number of mobile broadband subscriptions is growing globally by around 25 percent year-over-year, increasing by around 160 million in the third quarter alone. LTE subscriptions continue to grow strongly and the total figure has reached around 850 million subscriptions, with around 120 million new LTE subscribers coming online in the third quarter. There were around 79 million new WCDMA/HSPA added during the third quarter.

Half of all mobile devices in the United States and Canada now use LTE networks, according to Ericsson, and the access to faster speeds is in turn driving more data usage of video, social media and other mobile broadband services. North America already has the highest monthly data usage per smartphone in the world and this trend will continue. More than 90 percent of the total data growth in the region from 2015 to 2021 – when Ericsson forecasts total usage will jump from 1.3 exabytes (roughly 1.4 billion gigabytes) to 9 exabytes per month -- will come from smartphones. That represents a growth of almost 40 percent annually.

Ericsson predicts that between 2015 and 2021, smartphone subscriptions will increase by 45 percent in the U.S. and Canada, to 410 million and that feature phones "will see an almost total decline during the same period."

In North America, more than half of mobile service users browse the Internet at least daily from their mobile device, while nearly 75 percent browse via a mobile device on a weekly basis. Social networking is the next largest usage category, with more than 60 percent of mobile users accessing a social networking site at least once per week from a mobile device.

The jump from users churning through an average of 3.8 GB per month in 2015 to 22 GB per month in 2021 will in part be driven by technology advances in devices, like higher resolution screens. The usage corresponds to 15 to 30 minutes of video streaming per day. Social networking and other apps will also contribute to larger traffic volumes in 2021, Ericsson said. Total mobile data traffic in 2021 is expected to exceed 9 exabytes per month.

Looking globally, Ericsson said the number of subscriptions exceeds the population in many countries, which is largely due to inactive subscriptions and multiple device ownership, e.g. for business and private use, or to optimize pricing by using different operators for different calls (this is common, for example, in parts of Africa). In developed markets, users tend to add secondary devices like tablets, which often means that the number of subscribers is lower than the number of subscriptions.

By 2016, Ericsson forecasts the number of smartphone subscriptions will surpass those for feature phones, and the firm expects smartphone subscriptions to almost double by 2021. "This is due to greater affordability in developing markets such as Asia Pacific, the Middle East, and Africa," Ericsson said, adding that 85 percent of all subscriptions will be for mobile broadband by the end of 2021.

Ericsson expects people will adopt 5G faster than they did LTE. The firm says 5G networks, which are still not defined by standards bodies, will consist of a new radio access network, an evolved LTE access and an enhanced core network. "It offers a wider range of services and will open up new industries and verticals. 5G networks, based on standards that will meet ITU IMT-2020 requirements, are expected to be deployed commercially in 2020," Ericsson noted.

Pre-standard, pre-commercial networks are expected to be launched earlier in selected markets, Ericsson said, adding that in 2021, South Korea, Japan, China and the U.S. are expected to have the fastest adoption of 5G subscriptions.

For more:
- see this release
- see this Ericsson report (PDF)
- see this Ericsson report on North America (PDF)
- see this Reuters article

Related articles:
Ericsson's Vestberg: The U.S. should lead on 5G -- but we'll be leading no matter what
Ericsson backs away from expectation of 50B connected devices by 2020, now sees 26B
Strategy Analytics: U.S. to have 387M LTE subscriptions in 2020
LTE subscribers to reach almost 1.4B globally in 2015
Report: U.S. consumers swallowed 2.5 GB/month of cellular data in Q1 on average
Cisco: Average N. American mobile user to consume 6 GB/month in 2017

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