Over the past couple of years, data traffic levels in India have grown manifold. While social networking and instant messaging along with online shopping are some of the more prominent categories when it comes to data traffic, it is video, that takes a lion’s share. Video—viewing, sharing and streaming—together account for nearly two-thirds of the total data traffic in the country today. The trend is similar across the world and is likely to continue in the coming years. Ericsson’s latest Mobility Report estimates that globally by 2024, a smartphone will consume more than 21GB of data per month, nearly four times the amount consumed in 2018. The percentage of video-based data traffic will continue to grow with introduction of newer formats and immersive experiences enabled by AR [augmented reality] and VR [virtual reality].

Understanding video data traffic

The increase in video data traffic per smartphone user has three main drivers: increased viewing time, more video content embedded in news media and social networking, and an evolution to higher resolutions and more demanding formats. Today, mobile video is generally streamed at low-definition and standard-definition formats, 360p and 480p, respectively. This is often due to restrictions introduced by both content and communications service providers, as well as customers selecting formats with lower bit rates to get the most out of their data packs.

User behaviour is shifting, with low- and standard-definition video formats being overtaken by HD and Full HD formats. Interestingly, the streaming of high-definition (HD) video in 720p and 1080p resolutions is increasing, and the average resolution of even a YouTube video in some LTE networks is already up to 720p.

AR and immersive experiences are now on the horizon

However, it is important to note that higher resolutions and complex formats—including 4K, 8K, virtual reality and augmented reality—although on the horizon but have not generated a significant amount of traffic to date. Even, use cases driving large-scale streaming of 4K, 8K or VR to smartphones have not yet emerged. AR has many potential applications. Industrial manufacturing and maintenance, sports events, architecture, navigation and tourism are just a few of the areas where AR is expected to have a big impact. Traffic generated by AR will depend on many factors and will vary across a wide spectrum from very little to extreme.

Also, the two key factors in enabling new immersive formats to go mainstream will be reduction in latency and support for more symmetrical uplink/downlink throughput—both of which are attributes of 5G technology.

Data traffic to quadruple in India by 2024

Coming back to India, we estimate the total data traffic in the country to quadruple from 3 exabytes per month to 12 exabytes per month by 2024, once again abetted by rapidly increasing consumption of video content. [One Exabyte is 1,024 petabytes, and a petabyte is 1,024 terabytes or TB]. This period will also witness the growth of 4G footprint and India will predominantly be an LTE market with 4G technology accounting for nearly 80% of all subscriptions which means better data coverage. India is also estimated to have nearly a billion smartphone subscriptions over the next 5 years.

While we talk about growth in data traffic and future projections, it is also important to understand that we are working in parallel with mobile operators on enhancing end-user experience as the rise of video content continues to demand more from the data networks.

Note: All data points used in this article have been referred from Ericsson Mobility Report (November 2018)

Views are personal.

The author is head of Ericsson India and head of network solutions, Ericsson SE Asia Oceania and India

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