Mobile data traffic at both global and Spain will increase seven-fold between 2016 and 2021 according to a Cisco Report, which calls for the exponential increase in mobile users, smartphones and Internet of Things (IoT) connections, along with the improvements in network speed and increased mobile video consumption.

Cisco Vice President of Service Provider Marketing Doug Webster highlighted the importance that 5G will acquire with the increasing use of these devices and features, and I also talk about the need to adapt the architectural world to the functions that make available to users.

A look back at 2016

Global mobile data traffic grew by 63% in 2016, according to Cisco’s report. It reached 7.2 exabytes (one exabyte equals one billion gigabytes and a thousand petabytes) a month at the end of 2016, compared to 4.4 exabytes a month at the end of 2015.

Mobile data traffic has grown 18 times in the last 5 years. Mobile networks carried 400 petabytes per month in 2011.

Globally, smart devices accounted for 46% of all mobile devices and connections in 2016. In addition, they accounted for 89% of mobile data traffic. In 2016, on average, a smart device generated 13 times more traffic than a non-smart device.

Mobile video traffic accounted for 60% thy mobile data traffic in 2016. Mobile video traffic now accounts for more than half of all mobile data traffic.

On the other hand, average smartphone usage grew by 38% in 2016. The average smartphone traffic in 2016 was 1,614 MB per month, up from 1,169 MB per month in 2015.

Smartphones (including phablets) accounted for only 45% of all mobile devices and connections in 2016, but accounted for 81% of total mobile traffic. The typical smartphone generated 48 times more mobile data traffic (1,614 MB per month) than the typical cell phone with basic features (which generated only 33 MB per month of mobile data traffic).

Predictions for 2021

Global mobile data traffic will increase sevenfold between 2016 and 2021. Mobile data traffic will grow by 47% from 2016 to 2021, reaching 49.0 exabytes per month by 2021.

By region, mobile data will be multiplied between 2016 and 2021 by five in North America; six in Western Europe, Central and Eastern Europe and Latin America; by seven Asia Pacific, and by twelve in the Middle East and Africa.

In the case of Spain, Cisco notes that mobile data traffic will reach 4.5 Exabytes per month or 378 Petabytes per month in 2021, representing a year-on-year increase rate of 47% as well.

The report also states that global mobile data traffic will account for 20% of total IP traffic in 2021, compared to 8% in 2016, while in the case of Spain it will increase from 5% to 15 per cent of the total.


By 2021 there will be 1.5 mobile devices per person, almost 12 billion, including machine-to-machine (M2M) modules, for an estimated global population of 7.8 billion. And in particular in Spain they will be two per capita, ranking 101.4 million devices.

The Cisco study suggests that in 2021 there will be more mobile phones (5.5 billion) worldwide than bank accounts (5.4 billion), running water supplies (5.3 billion) or fixed telephone lines (2.9 billion).

M2M connections will account for 29% (3.3 billion) of all mobile connections, since 5% in 2016 (780 million), driven by the increase of Internet of Things (IoT) applications in both business and consumer environments. In Spain, M2M connections will make up 48% percent (48.3 million) of total connected mobile devices in 2021.

Speed and 4G and 5G networks

The report states that global mobile data traffic will account for 20% total IP traffic in 2021, up from 8% in 2016, while in Spain it will rise from 5% to 15 of the total. In addition, the average speed of mobile networks will increase threefold from 6.8 Mbps in 2016 to 20.4 Mbps in 2021 and in Spain it will reach 27 Mbps in 2021, compared to 12 Mbps in 2016.

4G networks will support 58% of all mobile connections in 2021, up from 26% in 2016, and will generate 79% of all mobile data traffic. In Spain, 4G networks will support 64 of the total mobile connections in 2021 (37% in 2016) and generate 95% of all mobile data traffic.

The exponential growth of mobile applications and the adoption of mobile connectivity by end users is driving the growth of 4G, which will soon follow 5G. Cisco and other industry experts estimate that large-scale 5G infrastructure deployments will begin in 2020.

Mobile providers will need higher speed, lower latency, and dynamic provisioning capabilities than 5G networks are expected to meet growing user demand and deliver new services in the business and residential segment. Cisco anticipates that 5G will account for 1.5% of mobile data traffic globally in 2021, and generate 4.7 times more traffic than the average 4G connection and 10.7 times more than 3G.


As Doug Webster, Vice President of Marketing for Service Providers at Cisco, highlighted, “due to the proliferation of IoT, mobile video, and augmented and virtual reality applications, along with more innovative experiences for businesses and consumers, the 5G technology will be key not only for mobility, but for networks as a whole. In order to support the greater functionalities enabled by 5G technology, networks also require greater programming and automation capacity, essential to meet the demands of today and the future.”

Booming video consumption

The category of mobile applications with the highest growth between 2016 and 2021 will be mobile video, which will increase by 8.7 in these five years globally and by nine in Spain. In this way, mobile video will represent 78 of all global mobile traffic in 2021 and 80 of Spanish.

In fact, live video consumption will increase 39-fold between 2016 and 2021, accounting for 5th of all mobile video traffic in 2021.


A consequence of video growth in both the fixed and mobile context is the acceleration of peak-hour traffic relative to average traffic growth. The use of the video tends to occur during the hours of the night and has a “prime time”, unlike the general use of the web that occurs during the day. As a result, more video usage means more traffic during peak times of the day.

Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality

In addition, Cisco’s report notes that Virtual Reality applications are being incorporated into wearables, such as helmets, which will grow from 18 million in 2016 to nearly 100 million in 2021, multiplying by five.

Global data traffic for these virtual reality products will increase elevenfold from 13.3 petabytes per month in 2016 to 140 petabytes per month in 2021. And traffic for augmented reality will increase seven-fold between 2016 and 202, from 3 petabytes per month in 2016 to 21 petabytes per month in 2021. Both are ready to be the next set of the biggest trends in mobile technology.

While the game is one of the key applications that drive Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality is primarily driven by industrial applications such as retail, medicine, education, tourism, retail shopping. Compared to Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality currently seems to be growing at a slower pace, but with its multiple applications in different industries it has the opportunity to be more popular than VR. All these innovations in AR and VR will pose new demands to the network in terms of quality and performance.