Mobile data traffic will increase 7-fold from 2016 to 2021, Cisco says

By 2021, mobile data traffic should represent 20 percent of total IP traffic, according to Cisco - up from 8 percent of total IP traffic in 2016.
Written by Stephanie Condon, Senior Writer

Thanks to continued growth in the number of mobile phone users, mobile video, 4G networks and the Internet of Things, global mobile data traffic should increase seven-fold from 2016 to 2021, according to a new report.

By 2021, mobile data traffic should represent 20 percent of total IP traffic, according to the Cisco Visual Networking Index (VNI) Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast. That's up from 8 percent of total IP traffic in 2016.

Global mobile data traffic is expected to reach 49 exabytes per month, or 587 exabytes annually, by 2021. That's an annual run rate equivalent to 131 trillion images or to 13 trillion Youtube clips. It's also 122 times more than all global mobile traffic generated in 2011.


The Middle East and Africa are projected to have 12-fold growth in mobile data traffic, while the Asia-Pacific region will see seven-fold growth. Latin America, Western Europe, and Central and Eastern Europe are all forecast to have six-fold growth. North America will have 5-fold growth, the report says.

Mobile video is driving traffic and by 2021 will account for 78 percent of all mobile traffic, the report says. That's an 8.7-fold increase from 2016 to 2021, giving video highest growth rate of any mobile application category. Live mobile video should grow 39-fold from 2016 to 2021 and will represent 5 percent of total mobile video traffic by 2021.

Other drivers include:

  • More mobile users: 5.5 billion in 2021, compared with 4.9 billion in 2016
  • More mobile-connected devices: Nearly 12 billion in 2021, compared to 8 billion in 2016
  • Faster mobile speeds: 20.4 Mbps in 2021 compared to 6.8 Mbps in 2016.

The report also forecasts:

  • The total number of smartphones (including phablets) will account for more than 50 percent of global devices and connections (6.2 billion) -- up from 3.6 billion in 2016.
  • Machine-to-machine (M2M) connections will represent 29 percent (3.3 billion) of total mobile connections--up from 5 percent (780 million) in 2016. M2M will be the fastest growing mobile connection type, thanks to IoT applications.
  • VR headsets will grow from 18 million in 2016 to nearly 100 million by 2021.
  • There will be 929 million wearable devices globally by 2021, growing nearly threefold from 325 million in 2016. The number of wearable devices with embedded cellular connections should reach 69 million globally by 2021 -- up from 11 million in 2016.
  • 4G will support 58 percent of total mobile connections by 2021 -- up from 26 percent in 2016 -- and will account for 79 percent of total mobile data traffic.
  • 5G will account for 1.5 percent of total mobile data traffic by 2021, and will generate 4.7 times more traffic than the average 4G connection.
Editorial standards