Lessons Learned in the Ericsson Mobility Report

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Ericsson released the results of its latest “Mobility Report” today – and it provides significant data to help drive smart policy decisions not only from the U.S. government, but for governments around the world.   The report is based on in-depth data traffic measurements in mobile networks from the world’s largest installed base of live networks.  So there is a consistent comparison, these measurements have been collected from all regions of the world since the early days of mobile broadband.  Ericsson’s aim is to share analysis based on these measurements, internal forecasts, and other relevant studies to provide insights into the current traffic and market trends. 

To help provide that analysis in conjunction with the report’s release, ITI asked Brian C. Jones, Ericsson’s Director of Government Relations and Public Policy, some questions about the report and its implications for public policy. 

ITI:  The report presents a staggering, but not surprising, prediction on the future of data traffic volumes, with traffic expected to grow 12-fold by 2018.  What are the implications of that substantial growth in such a short time frame?

JONES:  The implications are simple – more needs to be done to deal with the explosive growth and increased demand for mobile broadband.  Everything is going mobile.  This evolution is driven by video, cloud-based services, the internet and machine-to-machine (M2M) connectivity.  Important driving forces are the fast development on the device side with new, more affordable smartphones, and the many new connected devices on the market.  It changes how consumers behave and how they leverage mobility to communicate and to improve their daily lives, through existing and new services.  The simple reality is that users now demand connectivity anywhere and anytime.

ITI:  What are the key takeaways that you see coming out of this report?  What changes do you see compared to prior editions that give insights for policymakers?

JONES: Traffic in mobile networks continues to grow at an impressive rate worldwide. While voice remains a cornerstone of most operators’ service offerings, it is data growth, driven by the uptake of smart devices and apps, which is having the most significant impact on networks globally.  The growing availability of mobile broadband has raised user expectations of mobile network quality. Mobility is integral to our everyday lives.  Providing coverage, sufficient quality and speed to run apps anywhere and anytime is key.  With that said, our report has some key takeaways:

  • Around 50 percent of all mobile phones sold in Q1 2013 were smartphones and the growth of smartphone data traffic is expected to exceed the overall average
    • Smartphones will drive traffic
    • Low-price smartphones to further fuel this
    • Majority is HSPA
  • Mobile data traffic doubled between Q1 2012 and Q1 2013, and is expected to grow 12 times between 2012 and 2018, driven mainly by video
    • Video stands for 30% of traffic for smartphones (#2 is web browsing)
  • Total mobile subscriptions are 6.4 billion in Q1 2013 and expected to reach 9.1 billion by end of 2018
    • Global penetration reached 90% in Q1
    • APAC growth driven by new subscribers
    • NA growth driven by new devices (2nd SIM)
  • LTE added around 20 million new subscriptions in Q1 2013 and is predicted to reach around 2 billion by 2018
    • WCDMA/HSPA added around 60 million and GSM/EDGE-only subscriptions around 30 million
    • WCDMA/HSPA added around 250 million subscriptions compared to around 100 million for GSM/EDGE-only during 2012. LTE added 56 million during 2012.

In this issue of the report, we look beyond our usual update and outlook on mobile traffic with an analysis of traffic types.  Traffic has been forecast by application type, providing analysis into factors behind the growth.  In the last issue, we highlighted the growing importance of speed in mobile broadband networks. In this edition we take this analysis a step further, describing a new framework to understand varying network performance within a given coverage area in our App Coverage article.  Continuing on the theme of network performance, we cover the relationship between performance and customer loyalty and explain the effects of signaling on data traffic.  We also take a look at data roaming, and identify an opportunity for operators to generate new revenue streams.  Our final chapter, the ‘Signature of Humanity,’ offers a visualization of data and voice activity in three major cities around the world.

ITI:  What kind of differences do you see in usage in the U.S. versus other key markets?  How do developing nations rate?

JONES:  Ericsson has performed measurements from a large base of commercial networks covering all regions of the world, and those measurements have yielded some interesting results in different and developing markets around the world.

  • Western Europe (WE):  In Western Europe the total number of mobile subscriptions in 2013 Q1 was around 530 million with around 120 million estimated to be added until the end of 2018.  Less than 1 percent of the mobile subscriptions in 2012 were LTE but by 2018 this share is expected to be around 35 percent.  Around 60 percent of the mobile subscriptions in 2012 there are WCDMA/HSPA.
  • Central and Eastern Europe (CEE):  In Central and Eastern Europe the total number of mobile subscriptions in 2013 Q1 was around 640 million with over 100 million estimated to be added until the end of 2018.  Roughly 75% of mobile subscriptions in 2012 were GSM/EDGE-only and in 2018, WCDMA/HSPA is expected to have the most mobile subscriptions with around 70 percent.
  • Middle East and Arica (MEA):  In Middle East and Africa the total number of mobile subscriptions in 2013 Q1 was around 1060 million with roughly 700 million estimated to be added until the end of 2018.  Over 80 percent of mobile subscriptions in 2012 were GSM/EDGE-only subscriptions and by 2018, GSM/EDGE-only and WCDMA/HSPA is expected to have equal share of mobile subscriptions, around 45 percent.
  • Asia Pacific (APAC):  In Asia Pacific the total number of mobile subscriptions in 2013 Q1 was around 3.1 billion with another 1.3 billion estimated to be added until the end of 2018.  In APAC, more than 70 percent of the mobile subscriptions in 2012 were GSM/EDGE-only subscriptions and around 15 percent WCDMA/HSPA.  In 2018, these will stand for the majority of subscriptions with an expected share of around 20-25 percent for GSM-only and around 40 percent for WCDMA/HSPA.  In Asia Pacific less than 1 percent of the mobile subscriptions in 2012 were LTE with that number growing to 20 percent by 2018.  Also of note, China currently has the highest number of subscriptions at around 1.1 billion.
  • North America:  In North America, the total number of mobile subscriptions in 2013 Q1 was around 360 million with another 150 million estimated to be added until the end of 2018.  LTE showed the strongest growth in North America where penetration has already reached nearly 10%.  In 2018, LTE will be the dominant technology with a share of almost 70 percent.
  • Latin America:  In Latin America, the total number of mobile subscriptions in 2013 Q1 was around 690 million with another 220 million is estimated to be added until the end of 2018.  In Latin America, roughly 75 percent of mobile subscriptions in 2012 were GSM/EDGE-only and in 2018, WCDMA/HSPA is expected to have the most mobile subscriptions with around 70 percent. 

ITI:  Ericsson is a leading voice in the effort to secure more spectrum for commercial mobile broadband and to boost consumer services.  Is making underutilized government bands going to be enough to handle this kind of usage increase?

JONES:  With this type of explosive growth in demand, no one solution is likely going to be enough to handle the huge usage increases we continue to document.  But by keeping vigilant and open-minded to the potential solutions that exist currently, such as repurposing current federal spectrum holdings, we can ensure that we tap as many opportunities as possible to address our growing needs.  The industry was united behind repurposing broadcast spectrum and is once again united on doing the same for underutilized government bands.  As we have found though time and time again, repurposing spectrum for commercial broadband use takes a very long time and as a result, we all must continue to identify new potential sources of this precious spectrum commodity.

ITI:  What other lessons for U.S. and international policymakers and regulators do you take from this report?

JONES:  Beyond numbers and data, our new report offers some interesting insights for U.S. and international policymakers and regulators into consumer behavior trends.  In the November 2012 issue of Ericsson Mobility Repot we highlighted the growing importance of speed in mobile broadband networks.  In this edition we take this analysis a step further in our App Coverage article, describing a new framework to understand varying network performance when using different apps within a given coverage area.  Continuing on the theme of network performance, we cover the relationship between customer loyalty and network performance.  We also take a look into data traffic volumes and signaling time of various application types (e.g. video, social networking, Web browsing) in mobile networks.  We also performed an analysis of subscribers using international data roaming services suggests that data roaming is heavily dominated by business subscribers.  Data roaming penetration for consumers is lower, especially for low-end smartphone devices.  Our final chapter, the Signature of Humanity, offers a visualization of data and voice activity in New York, London and Hong Kong.

Our hope with this report, as with the others that came before it, is that we can offer not only data that policymakers and their staffs can use to make better telecommunications policy, but also some thoughts on the behavioral trends that are driving that data. 

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