If there's one technology that's clearly an indispensable part of our daily existence it has to be the humble smartphone. Gen Y struggle to cope without them, and even a few jaded oldies such as yours truly has been known to suffer pangs of smartphone withdrawal if parted from their smartphones for more than 10 minutes at a stretch.

According to Cisco's Visual Networking Index research released at the Cisco Live event, the way we use smartphones looks set to undergo some pretty dramatic changes over the next 5 years. The study draws on over 45 million individual points of data gathered from numerous sources, including a partnership with Ookla (who operate a popular mobile network speed test site) to paint a picture of the current and forecasted state of play within the mobile phone market.

Lots of Mobile Data

Amongst the statistics gathered by Cisco was the average monthly amount of data consumed by mobile devices globally in 2012 as well as that forecasted for 2017. Whilst smartphones chewed through an average of 342MB of data per month in 2012, their projected monthly average data consumption is predicted to rise to a whopping 2.66GB per month in 2017 - Here's hoping mobile data allowances get a lot bigger over the next 5 years or this trend could quickly get costly.


If that sounds like a lot of data, the numbers get even bigger when 4G is factored into the mix. By virtue of its ability to offer mobile data speeds that'd handily put many a home broadband connection to shame, Cisco's Visual Networking Study found that the global average data consumption for 4G smartphones was already a huge 1.3GB globally in 2012 and this is projected to grow to just over 5GB by 2017.

The Rise and Rise of the Small Screen, the Death of 2G

Cisco also predict that for getting data on the go, globally, the rise of the small screen has become nearly unstoppable with Smartphones set to nudge laptops aside accounting for 48.3 per cent of global mobile data traffic whilst notebook PCs account for just 24.2 per cent of all global mobile data traffic in 2017 whereas smartphones will generate 60.8 per cent of New Zealand's mobile data by then.

The study also spells out the durable popularity of 3G, with the number of New Zealand 2G mobile connections plummeting from 41 per cent of the total number of mobile connections in 2012 to a mere 7 per cert by 2017 as they're overtaken by 3G connections (which are expected to hit 81 per cent in 2017). Even though there is a huge amount of hype around 4G, the amount of 4G connections are forecast to grow moderately, accounting for just 11 per cent of the total New Zealand mobile connections by 2017. This said, 4G Will still represent 29 per cent of mobile data Traffic consumed in New Zealand by 2017.

Offloading from Cellular, The Internet of Things

Another fascinating trend is what Cisco have labelled offloading, which is where smartphone users make use of an alternative to mobile networks. In most cases to date this has typically seen many connecting to workplace or home WiFi networks. From an economic standpoint, offloading makes considerable sense given the price difference per megabyte for WiFi compared to mobile data. Offloading is also potentially compelling for Telcos, especially in situations where their mobile network is congested and they can lessen the load by encouraging smartphone users to make use of a wifi connection. Cisco's VNI study forecasts that 46 per cent of Mobile Traffic will be Offloaded in 2017.

If the numbers highlighted by the Visual network Index study are thought-provoking, Cisco predict that things will get really interesting in the near future and have coined the term, "the mobile internet of things". By this Cisco are talking about mobile connected parking meters, vending machines and anything else that needs to be monitored. Under this scenario there will be 1.4 mobile connections (that's phones and monitored machines) for every member of the world's population by 2017.

So there's clearly a lot set to happen and the one constant is likely to be that a whole lot of mobile data is going be zinging across the ether as more people migrate to smartphones, each using ever increasing amounts of bandwidth. Cisco's VNI study also predicts that more powerful smartphones will also result in accelerated smartphone adoption and a growing raft of Video and cloud services will also help to fuel smartphone demand and data consumption. Featuring as the digital equivalent of petrol on the fire, 4G from both Telecom and Vodafone will also dramatically increase data consumption.


These trends are all expected to have far reaching implications. For a start, more advanced cloud applications will require increasingly powerful networks as demand grows for faster upload speeds as well demand for improvements to latency (which will become increasingly important for real time events such as gaming, video and online collaboration). So not only will the amount of investment in networks needed to be made by telcos remain huge, they'll also be looking for ways to encourage smartphone users to use alternatives to the mobile network as mobile network congestion becomes a bigger problem. Even if they succeed in educating smartphone owners to use alternatives such as WiFi, the odds are good that Telco's will still need more wireless spectrum to cope with the looming data deluge.