More people will be using mobile phones than bank accounts worldwide come 2021 – 5.5 billion as compared to 5.4 billion, respectively, according to the 11th annual Cisco mobile traffic forecast.

Ongoing strong growth in the world population of mobile telecom handset users, smartphones and IoT connections will fuel correspondingly healthy gains in global mobile/wireless data traffic between 2016 and 2021, as will strong growth of mobile video consumption, use of augmented/virtual reality (AR/VR) and network improvements, including introduction of next-gen 5G wireless broadband technology, Cisco highlights.

According to Cisco’s forecast:

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  • North America annual mobile data traffic volume will grow nearly 5-fold, rising from 16.9 exabytes in 2016 to 76.8 exabytes in 2021.
  • Globally, annual mobile data traffic will reach 587 exabytes (EB) representing 20 percent of global IP traffic by 2021, up from just 8 percent in 2016.
  • Mobile devices per capita will rise to 1.5 per person globally. Nearly 12 billion mobile-connected devices will be in use (up from 8 billion and 1.1 per capita in 2016). That includes IoT-M2M modules.
  • Mobile network connection speeds will increase threefold, from 6.8 Mbps in 2016 to an average mobile broadband speed of 20.4 Mbps by 2021.
  • M2M connections will grow to reach 3.3 billion, representing 29 percent of total mobile connections, up from 5 percent (780 million) in 2016. M2M will be the fastest growing mobile connection type as global Internet of Things (IoT) applications continue to gain traction in consumer and business environments.
  • 4G will support 58 percent of total mobile connections by 2021, up from 26 percent in 2016 to account for 79 percent of total mobile data traffic.
  • The total number of smartphones (including phablets) will exceed 50 percent of global devices and connections (6.2 billion), up from 3.6 billion in 2016.
  • VR traffic will grow 11-fold globally, rising from 13.3 petabytes/month in 2016 to 140 petabytes/month in 2021.
  • Global AR traffic will grow 7-fold, increasing from 3 petabytes/month in 2016 to 21 petabytes/month in 2021.

Cisco Mobile Traffic Forecast
Cisco also anticipates a sharp rise in mobile video traffic, forecasting an 8.7-fold increase from 2016 to 2021 – the highest growth rate of any mobile application category. Come 2021, mobile video will represent 78 percent of global mobile traffic. Live mobile video will grow 39-fold from 2016 to account for 5 percent of total mobile video traffic by 2021. Much of the rising tide of mobile data traffic will be offloaded to Wi-Fi networks, according to Cisco:

  • The percentage of total mobile data traffic offloaded to Wi-Fi networks will rise from 60 percent in 2016 to 63 percent by 2021.
  • Monthly offload traffic in 2016 (an average 10.7 exabytes) exceeded monthly mobile cellular traffic (an average 7.2 EB).
  • Globally, total public Wi-Fi hotspots (including homespots) will grow six-fold from 2016 (94.0 million) to 2021 (541.6 million).
  • Wi-Fi traffic from both mobile devices and Wi-Fi-only devices together will account for almost half (49 percent) of total IP traffic by 2020, up from 42 percent in 2015.

Paving the way forward in terms of realizing these wireless/mobile networking milestones will be the introduction of 5G networks and services, which Cisco anticipates will begin to be deployed at large-scale by 2020. By 2021, Cisco expects 5G will account for 1.5 percent of total mobile data traffic globally. The average 5G connection will generate 4.7 times more traffic than the average 4G connection and 10.7 times more traffic than the average 3G connection, Cisco says.

Growing proportions of all that mobile data traffic will flow from and between IoT-M2M connections, according to Cisco.

“With the proliferation of IoT, live mobile video, augmented and virtual reality applications, and more innovative experiences for consumer and business users alike, 5G technology will have significant relevance not just for mobility but rather for networking as a whole,” Doug Webster, Cisco VP of service provider marketing, elaborated in a press release.

“As a result, broader and more extensive architectural transformations involving programmability and automation will also be needed to support the capabilities 5G enables, and to address not just today’s demands but also the extensive possibilities on the horizon.”

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