Android takes the lead from iOS in mobile data traffic

Cisco study finds global mobile traffic has hit 885 petabytes per month, predicts mobile devices will outnumber world population by 2017

Android devices worldwide collectively consumed around 2,500MB of mobile data per month by the end of 2012, 38 percent more than the 1,900MB consumed by iOS-based devices. That marks a dramatic shift since 2009, when Apple's mobile OS was at the top of the data-consumption heap. Meanwhile, monthly data usage on devices running Palm OS (now WebOS) hit around 1,345MB, beating out consumption on BlackBerry and Windows mobile devices.

Those findings come from Cisco's newly released Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update, which found that global mobile data traffic reached 885 petabytes per month at the end of 2012, up from 520 petabytes per month at the end of 2011. The report predicts that by 2017, global mobile data traffic will hit 11.2 exabytes per month and the number of mobile connected devices will hit 10 billion, exceeding the world's predicted population of 7.6 billion.

Cisco's report revealed some other interesting nuggets about mobile computing trends. Among them, it found that by the end of 2012, more than half of all mobile traffic was video, thanks in part to mobile network connection speeds more than doubling last year. Globally, the average mobile network downstream speed was 526kbps, up from 248kbps in 2011. The average connection speed for smartphones was 2,064kbps, up from 1,211kbps in 2011, while the average speed for tablets was 3,683kbps, up from 2,030kbps.

Though 4G is still in its infancy, representing only 0.9 percent of mobile connections today, it already accounts for 14 percent of all mobile traffic, according to Cisco. By 2017, 10 percent of connections will be 4G, channeling 45 percent of total traffic.

According to Cisco, carriers' shift from unlimited data plans to tiered data plans has not constrained usage patterns. From 2011 to 2012, average usage per device on a tiered plan grew from 425MB per month to 922MB per month, a rate of 117 percent. Meanwhile, usage per device on unlimited plans grew at a slower rate of 71 percent, from 738MB per month to 1.3GB per month.

Still, according to Cisco, tiered plans have been effective in constraining the heaviest mobile data users, especially the top 1 percent: Three years ago, 52 percent of all mobile traffic was generated by the top 1 percent, which now generates 16 percent of the overall traffic per month, while the top 20 percent generates around 71 percent.

Broken down by platform, Android devices worldwide collectively consumed 2,700MB in mobile data per month at the end of 2012, while iOS devices consumed 1,900MB. Proprietary devices burned through around 2,100MB of mobile data; Palm/WebOS devices consumed 1,345MB, Windows devices ate up 919MB, BlackBerry devices consumed 552MB, Linux devices did 449MB, and Symbian phones consumed just 5MB (down from 441MB the year prior).

Cisco also broke down traffic patterns on smartphones versus tablets. On smartphones, 45 percent of data consumption went toward video and communications apps, 12 percent went toward information apps, 6 percent was burned through Web browsing, and 7 percent was eaten up by social-networking apps. On tablets, half of all data usage was video based, while 17 percent was used on information apps. Seven percent went toward Web browsing, and just 3 percent was used for social networking.

In general, the number of tablets more than doubled for a total of 36 million, according to Cisco, and each tablet generated 2.4 times more traffic than the average smartphone. Mobile data traffic per tablet was 820 MB per month, compared to 342MB per month per smartphone. As a point of comparison, mobile data traffic per laptop was 2.5GB per month.

This story, "Android takes the lead from iOS in mobile data traffic," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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