The Mobile Tsunami Is Near: Blame Netflix & Apple

Think mobile data demand is big today, with 94 million smartphone shipped this year and 5 billion mobile subscribers? Well, Cisco ( s csco) says it’s going to get a lot bigger by 2015, with worldwide mobile data traffic set to increase 26-fold between 2010 and 2015, reaching 6.3 exabytes per month. That’s 75 exabytes annually by 2015 (What is an Exabyte?). Last year, I called it the mobilpocalypse, but this year, I’m going to say it’s a looming tsunami, driven by everyone’s favorite bandwidth hog — web video –and the proliferation of mobile devices. In short, we can blame this wave on Netflix (s nflx) on the iPad (s aapl).

Cisco anticipates that in 2015, the average mobile user will consume 1,118 megabytes of traffic per month. For perspective, today the average mobile connection generates 65 megabytes of traffic per month, equivalent to about 15 MP3 music files. While the average growth is impressive, those megabytes will be spread across a wider number of devices, from tablets (big bandwidth hogs) to e-readers, which consume much less bandwidth, making it all the more significant. The Cisco study predicts that by 2015, more than 5.6 billion personal devices will be connected to mobile networks, and there will also be 1.5 billion machine-to-machine nodes — nearly the equivalent of one mobile connection for every person in the world. Cisco doesn’t give the current number of connections, but the GSM Association puts it at about 5 billion.

Cisco anticipates that mobile network-connected tablets will generate 248 petabytes per month in 2015 while machine-to-machine (M2M) traffic will reach 295 petabytes per month in 2015. The numbers are interesting because they are on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to data demand and profitability. Consumer video is in high demand thanks to devices such as tablets, but it’s also something operators are watching because they are worried it will clog their networks while not bringing higher margins. Meanwhile, much of the M2M connectivity will be small amounts of traffic, but extremely profitable.

The question operators must answer is how soon these dynamics will reach some sort of equilibrium, or perhaps, if those dynamics will reach an equilibrium. Cisco notes in a presentation that, “in 2010, global mobile data traffic experienced a 2.6 times growth for the third year in a row, despite a slow economic recovery, increased traffic offload, and the advent of tiered pricing.”

Operators are trying to cut back on data use, whether because their networks are overwhelmed or simply because they want to keep their nice margins on wireless data. However, that growth is still coming, and operators are undoubtedly trying to shape their customer base to ensure that a consumer-heavy subscriber portfolio doesn’t drag down their bottom line. So tiered pricing, pricing that ignores the reality of consuming more data at faster speeds, and possibly limits on what one can download in cheaper plans are all likely to make an appearance.

Crazy Stats (and One Chart) to Beef Up Your Mobile Broadband Reports

  • Mobile video is forecast to represent 66 percent of all mobile data traffic by 2015, increasing 35-fold from 2010 to 2015, the highest growth rate of any mobile data application tracked in the Cisco VNI Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast.
  • Mobile traffic originating from tablet devices is expected to grow 205-fold from 2010 to 2015, the highest growth rate of any device category tracked.
  • Global mobile data traffic increased 159 percent from calendar year 2009 to calendar year 2010 to 237 petabytes per month, or the equivalent of 60 million DVDs.
  • Global mobile data traffic grew 4.2 times as fast as global fixed broadband data traffic in 2010.
  • Global mobile data traffic in 2010 was three times the size of all global Internet traffic (fixed and mobile) in the year 2000.
  • Smart phones, laptops, and other portable devices will drive more than 87 percent of global mobile traffic by 2015.

Related GigaOM Pro content: