Mobile data use skyrockets in 2014; is online video to blame?

Data use on 2G, 3G and 4G wireless networks approached 3,000 petabytes per month worldwide in the third quarter of 2014, while voice traffic on mobile phones remained flat, according to Ericsson data reported by Akamai in its quarterly State of the Internet report.

That's nearly double the amount of data use in the same period in 2013, when Ericsson and Akamai reported mobile data traffic of 1,800 petabytes per month.

Sequentially--between the second and third quarters of 2014--mobile data traffic grew 10 percent.

While the measurement is for all mobile data traffic on Akamai's network, it's probably safe to say that a large percentage of mobile data being consumed is directly related to online video streaming--whether from pure-play OTT providers or through TV Everywhere apps provided by pay-TV operators or individual networks and distributors.

Akamai mobile traffic growth Q3 2013
Akamai mobile traffic growth Q3 2014

Top: Voice and data mobile traffic growth to Q3 2013. Bottom: Mobile traffic growth to Q3 2014. Voice traffic remained flat throughout the period while mobile data nearly doubled. (Source: Akamai State of the Internet)

Akamai's David Belson, senior director, Industry and Data Intelligence, told FierceOnlineVideo that Ericsson provides only aggregate data to include in the report, so it's impossible to say exactly how much video streaming drove those numbers. But the raw data, when held up next to reports by online video streaming solution providers Ooyala and JW Player, supports their findings around video viewing on mobile devices. Ooyala said in its Q3 Global Video Index, published in December, that videos provided by its customers were viewed more often on smartphones and tablets than the year previously--a 114 percent increase. JW Player, in its first-ever video index, noted that smartphone users viewed video from its customers for an average of 20 minutes per month.

Both providers measure their customers' video streams, noting which devices those streams are delivered to. Additionally, JW Player noted that 17 percent of its video plays worldwide are delivered over Akamai's network.

The continuing increase in mobile video viewing has providers targeting an increasing percentage of their video efforts toward smartphones. Synacor, for example, is distributing a collection of syndicated short-form video content through BuddyTV, and said it is working to make its content available on mobile devices. FreeCast recently redesigned its Rabbit TV interface to work on multiple devices without its signature dongle. And online content curators like Pluto TV and iLOOK have developed their platforms with smartphones in mind since the beginning.

As far as the speed of those mobile connections, a key factor in viewing online video on a smartphone: The U.S. swims in mobile mediocrity, averaging 5.8 megabits per second, and 16.9 Mbps at peak connection speeds. Compare that to its northern neighbor Canada, with 7.9 Mbps average and 28.7 Mbps peak speeds; or top-rated Singapore, with 9.8 Mbps average and 98.0 Mbps peak speed.

For more:
- download Akamai's report (reg. req.)
- see this release

Related articles:
Ooyala: Smartphone, tablet OTT viewing jumps 114% since last year
JW Player index puts tablet viewing ahead of smartphones, desktops
Report: iOS outranks Android as a smartphone video platform, viewing overall jumps 532%
Synacor takes new tack with syndicated content, teams with BuddyTV