75 Exabytes Of Mobile Data Will Be Used By 2015, But We Can Be Fickle Users

Some interesting numbers out from Cisco (NSDQ: CSCO) that, if true, have big implications for the mobile world and how services might develop over time. Mobile data use is poised to grow by 26 times between 2010 and 2015 with services like mobile video driving that boom, with a staggering 5.6 billion devices connected to mobile networks by that time. But it looks like, for now, users still have something of a scattergun approach to mobile content: some numbers from mobile analytics firm Localytics indicate that 26 percent of all apps downloaded get used only once.

In its Visual Networking Index, a comprehensive report looking at mobile data growth worldwide, Cisco predicts that 66 percent of all mobile data traffic will come from video by 2015, making it the fastest-growing of any mobile category. The growth of video — the most data-intensive of applications — will always outpace that of other services.

Tablet boom. The devices that are most likely to be used for video consumption will also grow massively: Cisco believes that mobile-connected tablets will see the most growth of all devices, generating as much traffic in 2015 as the entire global mobile network did in 2010, respectively 248 petabytes per month and 242 petabytes per month.

And even though tablets today are far from ubiquitous, consumption on them today is already setting the stage for how much traffic tablets will generate: In 2010, Cisco estimates that there were only three million tablets worldwide connected to mobile networks. But even so, each of those tablets generated five times more traffic than the average smartphone, 405 MB per month versus 79 MB per month.

Mobile data usage. The numbers raise some interesting questions over how mobile operators will price mobile data in the future. We’ve seen a very big swing towards tiered pricing and data caps in mobile networks, and some predict pricing will become even more itemized when operators start to introduce pricing based on what kind of content we are actually consuming. For now, operators keep assuring us that these caps actually fit in well with how the vast majority of users are actually consuming data.

But the Cisco study paints a different picture: the researchers say the average mobile connection generates 65 megabytes of traffic per month, equivalent to about 15 MP3 music files. But by 2015, Cisco notes the average mobile connection is anticipated to generate more than 17 times that amount, or 1.118 gigabytes per month, “equivalent to about 260 MP3 music files.” Volumes like that go far beyond the kind of pricing caps that are in place today, and lead one to wonder how operators will keep up with the changes — or if, on the other hand, their tiers will actually end up reigning in growth.

The other side of the coin. The Cisco study doesn’t drill down too far into user behavior in mobile data — how much use of the mobile web versus apps, for example — but some number crunching from the mobile analytics company Localytics points to a very diluted kind of consumption. Apps are downloading at a record pace but not all of them are sticking: Localytics found that 26 percent of all users never look at an app more than once after they download it.

The picture you get is that while mobile operators could stand to benefit hugely from the growth in mobile data, many of the people fuelling consumption — the publishers — might not.