How Mobile Network Usage Will Change Your Work Environment

Everyone you know has a smartphone and mobile data network usage is growing hugely, but what do those developments mean for IT pros when it comes to managing and deploying apps and equipment? Here are some key trends to watch out for (including average download speeds for Aussies and how many of us really use 4G) and what they'll mean for your future projects.

Mobile user picture from Shutterstock

Most of this data is drawn from Cisco's Mobile Visual Networking Index (VNI), an annual study which tracks and predicts usage of mobile networks across the globe. Cisco VP for global technology policy Dr Robert Pepper presented the data at a media briefing at the Cisco Live conference in Melbourne.

Trend #1: Mobile data is growing

The data: "In Australia, we're forecasting mobile data traffic is going to increase six times over between 2012 and 2017," Pepper said. A big reason for that trend is that while mobile device usage is already near saturation level, the majority of us now have more than one mobile-connected device. By 2017, Cisco predicts that Australia will have 2.2 mobile connections per person, with a total of 56 million connected mobile devices.

What it means: "If anybody has a business today and they're not thinking about connecting to users via their smartphones, they're missing a huge opportunity," Cisco ANZ CTO Kevin Bloch commented. Choosing a single target platform may be risky: most people will want to use your app or service in more than one environment.

Trend #2: We're not as fast as you think

The data: Analysis of local performance data suggests that on a fixed network, you'll see an average download speed of 7.9Mbps, an upload speed of 1.2Mbps, and a ping time of 54 milliseconds. On mobile networks, the numbers are 2.9Mbps, 1.0Mbps and 161ms.

What it means: You shouldn't assume that users connecting to your apps or sites have especially high speeds or (in particular) latency. These numbers will continue to rise, but it's risky to presume everyone is on even ADSL2+ speeds, let alone NBN-like figures.

Trend #3: Smartphones will dominate in Australia

The data: As a first-world country, Australia has shifted to smartphones much faster than the rest of the globe. By 2017, Cisco is predicting that 50 per cent of connected devices worldwide will still be 2G 'dumb phones', with smartphones accounting for 27.5 per cent of devices. However, in Australia, smartphones will account for 51.3 per cent of connections.

What it means: Reinforcing the earlier point: any device strategy that doesn't incorporate smartphones will look short-sighted. With that said, if you're a software developer with a vision to develop products for the global market, don't put all your eggs in the smartphone basket.

Trend #4: The 4G minority are data hogs

The data: Despite all the hype around 4G, 2G and 3G connections will dominate through 2017. In that year, Cisco predicts that 57 per cent of global connections will be 2G, with 33 per cent on 2G and 10 per cent on 4G. In Australia, 3G will dominate with 77 per cent, followed by 4G on 12 per cent.

However, 4G's higher speeds mean that those users will take a disproportionate volume of traffic. Globally, 4G connections will account for 45 per cent of traffic by 2017. In Australia, that figure will be 40 per cent.

What it means: If your staff get 4G connectivity, chances are they will consume more data. That's not a problem — provided you're prepared to pay for it.

Trend #5: Data consumption still dominated by notebooks

The data: Despite the rise of smartphones, when it comes to data consumption, notebooks still dominate. Here are the typical monthly mobile network data usage patterns for devices, as measured in 2012 and predicted in 2017:

Device 2012 (MB) 2017 (MB)
Dumb phone 6.8 31
Machine-to-machine 64 330
Smartphone 342 2660
4G smartphone 1302 5114
Tablet 820 5387
Laptop 2503 5731

What it means: Notebooks still matter: despite the rise of phones, larger screens remain important as a data consumption system. Don't put all your eggs in the smartphone basket, and recognise that notebooks and tablets are increasingly occupying the same space.

Trend #7: Data offload is increasing

The data: In order to deal with demand, mobile operators are increasingly using 'offloading': rolling 3G connections onto local Wi-Fi or other networks. 11 per cent of global traffic was offloaded in 211, and by 2017 that figure will be up to 26 per cent even in Australia, where the model is still relatively new. "We're seeing a dramatic increase globally in terms of offload traffic," Pepper said.

What it means: Bear in mind that connections on 3G may not actually be on 3G. Many users presume that 3G connections are inherently more secure than Wi-Fi, but this can be a dangerous assumption.

Disclosure: Angus Kidman visited Melbourne as a guest of Cisco.


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