Thu, 09 Apr 2015 - 21:00
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We use mobile phones very heavily – and that is only going to increase

It is hard to imagine that as a society we could increase our reliance on mobile communications.

If we could transport somebody forward in time from 1985 to 2015, it might well be the single biggest difference our time traveller would notice – the sight of people everywhere talking on, viewing data or pictures or video on, listening to, typing on, or otherwise interacting with their mobile phone.

What do the numbers say about how much we use our mobile phones and devices?  And what does the future hold? 

According to the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association, in its March 2015 ‘Mobile Minute’, there are over 31 million active mobile subscriptions, and over 26 million of them include an internet service.  Over three quarters of Australian adults access the internet through their mobile phones.  This ranks Australia 4th, out of 138 countries around the world, for the percentage of the population which has mobile internet access.

The volume of data that we access over mobile devices is rising sharply – in fact total mobile internet downloads rose by 97% in the year to 30 June 2014.  Nationally, in 2014 there were over 30 petabytes (a measure of data volumes) of traffic on the mobile networks, more than triple the 2011 levels, and this is expected to rise to nearly 80 petabytes a month by 2017. 

To put this in context, a petabyte is one million gigabytes – and a gigabyte is the typical unit used to express the monthly download data limits on a mobile plan.  A typical plan might have a monthly limit of, say, 2 or 3 gigabytes.

All of this is delivered over the networks of the mobile operators which between them have over 14,000 base stations – with another 3,000 currently being developed. 

The growth in Australia is staggering – but in many ways the growth figures worldwide are even more extraordinary.  According to the most recent Ericsson Mobility Report, issued by one of the world’s leading manufacturers of telecommunications equipment, there were 2.9 billion mobile broadband subscriptions in 2014 – but 2020 this is expected to rise to 8.4 billion. (Of these 8.4 billion subscriptions, the vast majority will be for smartphones – today’s examples include the Apple iPhone and the Samsung Galaxy.)

Even more remarkable than the expected growth in the number of services is the growth in the amount of data being carried over the global network.  While the Australian numbers are quoted in Petabytes, the global numbers are in Exabytes – an Exabyte is one thousand petabytes.  Globally, mobile data volumes were a bit under five Exabytes per month in 2014 – by 2020 this is expected to be 25 Exabytes.

Whatever the figures being quoted, the message is very simple.  In Australia, we are going to see a lot more data being carried per mobile service in operation, as well as some increase in the number of services. 

Globally, we are going to see a lot more data being carried – and a lot more services.  When it comes to mobile communications, and particularly broadband data over mobile  - not only do we use these services very heavily today, we are only going to use them even more heavily in the future.