Cisco Report: Mobile Phones Will Number 5.5 billion by 2021

Cisco Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast projects that there will be more people on Earth using smartphones in 2021 than there are with access to running water.

Cisco Systems came out with its annual state of mobile networking report on Feb. 7, and there was no shortage of both expected and unexpected data points.

The 11th annual Cisco Visual Networking Index Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast (2016 to 2021) projects that there will be more people on Earth using mobile phones in 2021 than there are with access to running water.

This also could indicate that the well-watered people in the world should move faster to help get that vital liquid resource to other places that need it.

What follows in this article are a lot of large and predictive analytics-based numbers emanating from systems that we write about virtually each day here at eWEEK. How accurate will they be in the long run? We hesitate to project that answer without writing a query and running it through IBM Watson.

Highlights of the report include:

--By 2021, more members of the global population will be using mobile phones (5.5 billion) than bank accounts (5.4 billion), running water (5.3 billion), or landlines (2.9 billion).

--Mobile data traffic shows no signs of slowing down: This isn't much of a surprise. Mobile data traffic will represent 20 percent of total IP traffic globally; this is up from only 8 percent of total IP traffic in 2016.

--4G connection growth and measurable impact of 5G: 4G will support 58 percent of total mobile connections by 2021; this is up from 26 percent in 2016. It will account for 79 percent of total mobile data traffic. Measurable 5G impact is expected to begin by 2020, and subscriptions will sell very fast, the report said. That's not a surprise.

--Mobile devices are getting even smarter: If you read eWEEK on a regular basis, you already know this is true. Machine-to-machine (M2M) connections will represent 29 percent (3.3 billion) of total mobile connections, up from 5 percent (780 million) in 2016, as the internet of things (IoT) continues to grow in consumer and business environments.
--More video with an even larger footprint: Mobile video will have the highest growth rate of any mobile application category and will represent 78 percent of all mobile traffic by 2021.

--Impact of virtual reality adoption: VR headsets will grow from 18 million in 2016 to nearly 100 million by 2021, a fivefold growth. VR traffic will grow 11-fold from 13.3 petabytes/month in 2016 to 140 petabytes/month in 2021 globally.

Look for the popularity of mobile video to continue to escalate. According to the study, mobile video will increase 8.7-fold from 2016 to 2021 and will make up 78 percent of all mobile network traffic by 2021.

Mobile data traffic overall will increase seven-fold in the next five years from 87 exabytes in 2016 to 587 exabytes in 2021, according to the study.

Cisco also said that machine-to-machine connections are the fastest growing type of IoT connections and will account for 29 percent of connections, or 3.3 billion, up from 5 percent, or 780 million in 2016.

Interestingly, the Cisco study says that by 2021, 46 percent of M2M connections will be over the 4G cellular network, compared to 31 percent that will be on a low-power wide area (LoRa) M2M network.

In 2016, LoRa carried about 7 percent of M2M traffic compared to 4G, which carried about 23 percent of M2M traffic.

Cisco Mobile VNI Forecast Methodology

The Cisco VNI Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast (2016-2021) uses independent analyst forecasts and real-world mobile data usage studies. Upon this foundation are layered Cisco's own estimates for mobile application adoption, minutes of use and transmission speeds.

Key enablers such as mobile broadband speed and device computing power are also factored into Cisco mobile VNI projections and findings, the company said.

You can read the complete report in whitepaper form here.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris Preimesberger

Chris Preimesberger is Editor of Features & Analysis at eWEEK, responsible in large part for the publication's coverage areas. In his 12 years and more than 3,900 stories at eWEEK, he has...