Mobile Milestone: Data Surpasses Voice Traffic

Mobile data bits traveling around the world outnumbered voice traffic for the first time during December of 2009, according to wireless equipment vendor Ericsson. Worryingly, that data traffic was generated by an estimated 400 million smartphones set against 4.6 billion mobile subscribers making voice calls. What happens when everyone has a smartphone?

Ericsson (s eric) measured traffic across networks around the world and discovered that once data traffic surpassed 140,000 terabytes per month, those bytes outnumbered the traffic generated by voice calls. Data traffic grew 280 percent during each of the last two years, and Ericsson expects it to double annually over the next five (see Cisco’s (s csco) estimates here). Already traffic in 3G networks has surpassed that of 2G networks. Note that in India and China, the world’s two most populous countries, 3G networks are only now coming online or have yet to do so.

Ericsson credits/blames social networking as accounting for “a large percentage of mobile data traffic” consumption, although video seems to consume many more bytes. Ericsson notes that 200 mobile operators in 60 countries are deploying and promoting the social networking site’s mobile products, with over 100 million active users accessing Facebook through their mobile devices. But Facebook is more an example of why we want always-on, always accessible broadband (we talk to our friends now, not merely via voice, but with pictures, texts and status updates) than it is the cause of the data deluge.

Here’s a video from Ericsson talking yesterday about this historic moment (of three months ago):

Related GigaOM Pro research: Metered Mobile Data Is Coming and Here’s How (sub req’d)