Cisco UK & Ireland Blog

The Rise of the Wearable

March 9, 2015

Smart watches, fitness trackers and electronic tattoos, all wearable technology that is expected to grow exponentially over the next five years according to the Cisco Visual Networking Index (VNI) global mobile data traffic report. The VNI forecasts that there will be half a billion wearable devices in use around the world within the next four years, up from just over 100 million presently – helping to fuel an 18-fold growth in mobile traffic.

Locally, the UK follows suit with this predicted wearable boom; there will be 16.4 million wearables by 2019 up from just 2.8 million in 2014. Crucially, there will not only be more of these wearable devices but the level of data they produce will drastically increase too. In the UK, the average wearable device will generate 569 megabytes of mobile data traffic per month by 2019, up from 119 megabytes in 2014, and globally, traffic from these devices will account for 1.4% of smartphone traffic by 2019.

Whilst the growth in wearable technology is undoubtedly one of the key take outs from this year’s VNI, what else has this year’s report told us about the health of the mobile industry, both globally and in the UK, and how different the industry will evolve by 2019?

A billion more mobile users globally

Globally, mobile data traffic will reach an annual run rate of 292 exabytes per year, up from 30 exabytes in 2014. To put this into some context, that’s the equivalent 65 trillion Instagram photos, or 6 trillion YouTube clips.

This significant growth in mobile data traffic can in part be seen as a product of the extra 1 billion mobile users globally forecast by 2019, rising to 5.2 billion. Coupled with this are the capabilities of these devices. In 2014, 88 percent of global mobile data traffic was ‘smart’, with advanced computing/multi-media capabilities and a minimum of 3G connectivity; however that figure is expected to rise to 97 percent by 2019. To achieve this, 3G is expected to surpass 2G as the top cellular technology by 2017, and by 2019 3G networks will support 44 percent of global mobile devices and connections; with 4G networks accounting for 26 percent.

Not only mobile

Despite much of this year’s mobile VNI pointing to an increase in mobile data traffic, when it comes to phone calls, Voice-over-Wi-Fi will in fact exceed Voice-over-LTE in the number of minutes used per year by 2019, accounting for more than half of all mobile IP voice traffic.

Similarly, by 2019 Wi-Fi offload traffic will surpass cellular traffic, with the total amount of mobile data traffic offloaded jumping from 46 percent in 2014 to 54 percent by 2019. ‘Offload’ refers to traffic from dual mode devices and supports cell and Wi-Fi connectivity, excluding laptops, over Wi-Fi and small cell networks.

UK to get smarter

From a UK perspective, there will be 59.1 million (91 percent of the United Kingdom’s population) mobile users by 2019, up from 56.4 million in 2014. Whilst this is significant, the real increase once again is in the boom of mobile data consumption, with it forecasted to reach 634.4 petabytes per month by 2019. That’s the equivalent of 159 million DVDs each month, up from just 74.2 petabytes in 2014.

Our reliance on and use of smartphones in the UK will continue to grow, with such devices predicted to generate 7.1 MB per month by 2019, up from 1.1 MB in 2014. At the same time 4G will become the norm in the UK over the next five years, accounting for 88.2 percent of total mobile data traffic by 2019, doubling from 42.2 percent currently. Additionally, tablets will account for 23 percent of total mobile data traffic by 2019, compared to 11.3 percent at the end of 2014.

The data opportunity and challenge

This year’s mobile Visual Networking Index highlights that the worldwide shift from basic-feature phones to smartphones combined with the continued growth in tablets, and the significant uptake of wearable devices are all key factors increasing global mobile traffic. Whilst the demand for more data and mobile devices may not be too surprising, businesses face a challenge in not only meeting the demand for data consumption, but connecting the range of devices, some of which we are already wearing, to the internet in a secure and safe way.

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