Ericsson: There'll be over 9 BILLION mobe subscribers by 2019

And yes, that means more subs than humans on the planet

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Smartphones accounted for 65 per cent of the phones which sold in 2014 so far, and by 2016 the number of smartphones in use will overtake the number of basic feature phones. Of the 6.8 billion mobile phone connections in the world, 2.6 billion are mobile broadband.

These stats come from the 6th Ericsson Mobility report. Every year Ericsson looks at how people are using their mobile phones by pulling statistics from their networks. It aggregates this with publicly available information to produce an overview of the state of the mobile industry and use it to predict what the trends will be – and how much kit their customers will want.

Ericsson has the largest base of mobile networks in the world and uses local staff to write the regional reports which supplement the main international document. The regions currently covered in depth are Europe, North East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa but in future Ericsson wants to have regional supplements for every part of the world where there is mobile coverage.

While the GSMA claims that the number of mobile subscriptions will exceed the number of people on the planet this year, Ericsson says that's more likely to happen in 2015 – and they make the same point that there will still be plenty of unconnected people, as lots of people have multiple SIMs.

The greatest growth is coming from Asia. In the last quarter the world added 120m subscribers and over half of these came from these came from India (28m), China (19m), Indonesia (7m), Thailand (6m) and Bangladesh (4m) . There is a slight increase in the rate of growth, too, but this is heavily influenced by regulation and cannot be pinned down as a trend.

What can be seen as trends Ericsson turns into forecasts and the company predict that there will be 9.2 billion subscriptions by 2019, over 80 per cent of those will be for data. Data subs will overtake voice subs in 2016.

Ericsson’s Patrick Cerwell describes the uptake of smartphones as “ a revolution”. The report predicts 5.6bn smartphones will be in existence by the end of 2019; we’ve only just passed the 2 billion mark for smartphones at present. This growth is helped by both lower priced smartphones and the rising Asian middle class.

Wealthier customers means more data usage. Mobile data traffic grew 65 per cent in the last year, and like EE, Ericsson sees 10x data growth between 2013 and 2019, despite categorising VoLTE as data. Voice isn’t dead – it’s growing – but slowly and only as a result of subscription growth. HD voice is too small to measure.

The big driver for mobile data is video, which Ericsson sees as accounting for half of all data traffic. The average smartphone user currently slurps 650MB a month, but the Swedes expect it to grow to 2.5GB per user per month by 2019, to give a give a total monthly consumption of 12 Exabytes. (When I was first writing about the Internet global traffic was 40MB a day!)

The growth comes from there being more video capable devices as people move to 4K video which will use 10-15MB/second on a big screen, higher resolutions and better codecs, more video content and a change in viewing behaviour partly driven by better network speeds.

Today about 60 per cent of the world’s population can get a 3G signal. Ericsson believes that by 2019 it will be 90 per cent of the population – and by then 60 per cent of the world will be on 4G anyway. At present there are 200m LTE subs worldwide, which will grow to 380m by the end of this year, along with 288 LTE networks (from all companies, not just Ericsson) deployed. There are lots of devices to use on the - 1563 commercially available LTE devices from 154 manufacturers, although some of these will be rebadged versions of the same things or equipment with modules in them.

Indeed Ericsson sees Machine to Machine (M2M) applications – the report refreshingly avoids the term Internet of Things – as insignificant in current data consumption, accounting for 0.1 per cent of traffic, but a huge source of growth, growing up to 400 per cent by 2019 with 3G and 4G dominant. The installed base of 2G devices might, however, see a situation where 2G is used for legacy and voice fall-back while 4G gets used for high speed data, with 3G being less valuable. This is outside the report’s five year window and Cerwell pointed out to the Reg that this would very much be on a network-by-network and region-by-region basis.

What will drive applications in M2M will be video billboards, connected cars and cameras. This can be used for load smoothing – billboards downloading video when the networks are quiet. M2M is, however, over-represented in roaming traffic -15 per cent of roamed data is M2M, a with big trucks doing telematics and moving around Europe.

How to handle growth will be a problem which will need heterogeneous networks, co-ordination of small cells and then tightly co-ordinated small cells so that you don’t drop speeds between cells. Handling the data traffic in urban environments is going to be key. Part of this is understanding how devices juggle data. Older phones can be less efficient on the network: while 4G is very much more efficient, it’s good for operators to migrate users.

The patterns of usage have moved over time. While we used to see a bathtub shape of graph as people used their phones, primarily for voice on their morning and evening commute, the move to mobile data means that phone usage is now more even through the day.

With this growing demand for bandwidth it’s no surprise that the battle for fibre backhaul has already begun. ®

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