For proponents of mobile data, the numbers in the latest Internet Activity report from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) tell quite a story — over the 12 months until June 2013, the amount of data downloaded on mobile devices almost doubled. In the year from December 2011 to December 2012, the amount of data increased from 5,000TB to 13,703TB.
Taking these numbers on their own and trumpeting 12-month growth percentages of 169 percent, 174 percent, and 97 percent sounds mighty impressive. Without any sort of wider context, it's easy to see how the ill-informed could fantasise of a world where mobile data trumps existing infrastructure to become the primary and best way to deliver data to the masses.
But taking the same numbers and plotting the growth percentage shows a more correct picture of what has actually happened with the volume of data downloaded by Australians. In the six months between the report's December 2011 and June 2012 editions, the amount of mobile data almost doubled.
As the above image shows, and with June 2011 to one side, for most of the other periods of the report, fixed-line growth has not deviated extremely from the numbers of mobile data since December 2011.
By contrast, the growth in data consumed via wireless connectivity, which the ABS defines as "satellite, fixed-wireless, mobile wireless via a datacard, dongle, USB modem, or tablet SIM card, and other wireless broadband" has been in decline. In the latest report, the amount of data contracted by 3.42 percent.
Until this point, the figures quoted have merely been growth percentages, and the full, absolute context of Australian connectivity has been left to one side. There's a good reason for this, to give false hope to the proponents of wireless connectivity.
The raw numbers on how Australians choose to download data present a crushing reality that, by all reasonable measures, should smash the carefully constructed glasshouses built by believers in air-as-a-medium broadband.
In the three months until June this year, mobile data accounted for 19.6 petabytes, while data downloaded via fixed-line broadband totalled 630 petabytes.
That's 32 times the amount of data delivered to handsets.
At the same time, the overall percentage of data that fixed line accounts for is still increasing — it rose 0.46 percentage points to now make up 93.07 percent of all data downloaded. Mobile data only makes up 2.9 percent of all data downloaded and rose by 0.49 percentage points.
It's hardly the sort of growth that will see mobile data get anywhere near the data downloaded by fixed broadband in our lifetimes.
To put it into perspective, the graph below shows how fixed line and mobile are eating into what is left of wireless. Dial-up is there for completeness' sake, but it only accounts for 66TB.
Beware of people bearing growth percentages and a love of mobile connectivity, for only half the picture will often be revealed.
It is not just the technology that is lacking in this instance; telcos have made mobile data far more expensive than its fixed-line equivalent. While Optus recently lowered its per gigabyte charge to AU$10 for mobile data, on the fixed-line side, iiNet recently bumped up some of its users' quota from 400GB to 500GB, free of charge. Clearly, the market has a preferred choice for where customers should conduct most of their data downloading.
Mobile data may be increasing at a rapid rate, but it is yet to reach one-fifth of the data downloaded on fixed lines in December 2009. By contrast, fixed-line downloads have grown by five and a half times since the end of 2009.
If mobile data is the future, I'll be happy to remain "trapped" in the past with fixed-line connectivity.