By 2020, mobile will be more common than electricity

Ronny Kerr · February 4, 2016 · Short URL:

New Cisco data predicts 5.5 billion mobile users, making up 70 percent of the global population

Think of all those couples staring down at their phones over dinner. Well, mobile phone use isn’t just addicting—it’s also contagious.

By 2020, there will be 5.5 billion mobile users across the globe, amounting to 70 percent of the world's population, according to data shared this week via the Cisco Visual Networking Index (VNI). Since the first camera phone came out in 2000, the number of mobile users has quintupled.

The vast majority of those users, as to be expected, are using mobile phones, tablets, and phablets (those massive smartphones many people seem to love). To put it in perspective, Cisco says that, by 2020, more people will have mobile phones (5.4 billion) than electricity (5.3 billion), running water (3.5 billion) and cars (2.8 billion).

Cisco developed the Cisco VNI Forecast to make predictions about future Web trends both for its own needs as well as those of its customers. The company uses the phrase "visual networking" to encompass large swaths of Web trends, from video to social networking to collaboration technologies.

Several developments over the years (and several still ongoing) have driven the rapid growth of mobile devices across the world. Mobile coverage has gone broader and gotten stronger in existing markets and mobile content has become standard issue for more and more content creators, two large contributors to the adoption of mobile devices.

“Future mobile innovations in cellular, such as 5G, and Wi-Fi solutions will be needed to further address new scale requirements, security concerns, and user demands," said Doug Webster, vice president of service provider marketing, Cisco. "IoT advancements will continue to fuel tangible benefits for people, businesses, and societies.”

Amazingly, while it took 16 years for the number of mobile users to quintuple, Cisco forecasts that mobile data traffic will multiply eightfold over the next five years.

Like mobile growth, overall Internet use is still going growing at an exponential, dizzying rate. This year, global IP traffic will zoom past the zettabyte mark, according to Cisco’s forecast published last May.

It’s okay if you don’t know what a zettabyte is because I looked it up for you. One zettabyte = 1000 exabytes = one million petabytes = one billion terabytes = one trillion gigabytes. These days, you can get a single terabyte (1000 GB) hard drive pretty cheaply, but you may be waiting awhile for a single zettabyte hard drive to store all the Internet’s traffic.

Mobile traffic is still growing much faster, however, as Cisco says global traffic has quintupled in the past five years and predicts it to triple in the next five years. In fact, the company's data shows traffic from wireless and mobile devices (66 percent) outpacing traffic from wired devices (33 percent) by 2019. A couple years ago, wired devices still accounted for most of the traffic at 54 percent.

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