Interesting Facts & Figures about Mobile’s Present & Future

If body clock means anything, and my normal wake-up time is around 4.45, I should be getting up at 7.45 am EST. Unfortunately, I am experiencing the reverse and was up too early for my own good. The good news is that I have almost entirely caught up with my email, and had a chance to examine the press release from Ericsson touting its latest mobility report.  Here are some interesting nuggets from the report:

  • 20 new mobile broadband subscriptions activated every second.
  • As of now, there are the same amount of mobile subscriptions as there are people on the planet.
  • By 2016, we will hit the four billion mark for smartphone subscriptions alone.
  • At end of this year, China will account for 35 percent of world’s LTE subscritpions, or roughly 350 million. 
  • There will be about 1.2 billion LTE subscriptions by 2015 and 4.1 billion by 2021.
  • By end of this year, Africa will have a billion mobile subscriptions, double the number of subscritipons in 2010. 
  • Global mobile data traffic is forecast to grow ten-fold by 2021, and video is forecast to account for 70 percent of total mobile traffic in the same year. 
  • Mobile video consumption will drive around six times higher traffic volumes per smartphone in North America and Europe (2015 to 2021).
  • North America data traffic per active smartphone will grow from 3.8 to 22 GB per month by 2021; in Western Europe, the increase is from 2 to 18 GB per month. 
  • In Asia, it will grow from 1 to 6.9 GB, while Africa will see it zoom from 1.1 to 6.3 GB per month. In Latin America and Central/Eastern Europe, the data usage in 2021 is expected to be roughly six times of current usage — 6 GB/month.  
  • In many mobile networks today, 50–70 percent of video traffic1 is from YouTube, Ericsson claims.
  • Social networking traffic will decline from 15 percent in 2015 to about 10 percent in 2021, which isn’t surprising considering that video is such a dominant part of the future and the data is streamed in much larger quantities.  

So what does all this mean? I think what mobile has done is “freed” from conventional, location-specific ideas – cultural, social, commercial. The ease with which we will continue to get on-the-go broadband connectivity is only going to increase. As countries like India continue to become more mobile broadband enabled, more we are going to see that society transform. Same goes for the continent of Africa, which will rewrite the rules based on geographic and local needs. The more I look into the future, the more I realize that we in Silicon Valley will have to actually start to rethink how we engage with this future, which isn’t going to be born in San Francisco. 

Here is what I wrote in a column for FastCompany in May 2015

Where others see roads, I see networks. Whenever I drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles down I-5, I wonder to myself whether McDonald’s and every other fast-food chain would have thrived had there been no interstate highway system. Would FedEx exist but for the invisible but very real infrastructure of airports, air routes, and roads? Railroads, freighters, factories, mass production—everything happened because the power of steam was made mobile. That created the Industrial Revolution and the Victorian age, and it altered the face of the entire planet.
Today, it’s the increasing mobility of “computing engines,” the marriage of microprocessors and Internet ubiquity, that is poised to reimagine our society. More than a billion people bought smartphones last year—or to put it differently, we added 1.2 billion nodes to what was already the largest network ever built. Networks—social, neural, physical, metaphorical—enable connectedness, and connectedness changes everything. Networks compress distance and time, that concentration speeds up life, and that, in turn, creates sociological and economic change.

The fundamental changes ahead don’t distract me from seemingly dubious assertions in the report. No matter what Ericsson says, they don’t have the ability to accurately forecast timelines. Like all equipment makers, they have a vested interest in hyping things up and not stay focused on reality. 

Take for example, this assertion: that by “2030, ICT could enable reductions in greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to the current carbon footprint of the US and EU combined.” How is this exactly going to happen? What is the source of change? Again, there are more questions than answers. 

Similarly, they are making some bold predictions about the future of wirless networks — aka 5G, which at best is a marketing term with very little meaning. Ericsson is forecasting 150 million 5G mobile subscriptions by 2021, less than a year after it is expecting to have commerical deployments of such networks. WTF is 5G anyway? 

“South Korea, Japan, China and the US are predicted to lead with the first, and fastest, 5G subscription uptake,” the report says. From most of the reports I have read, that if we get so called 5G test networks ready by 2020, we should be so lucky. I have no problems with Ericsson’s version of the future, I do think they are overtly aggressive on their timelines.  More on this 5G stuff later, but for now here are some pretty (colorful) charts, for your daily dopamine fix. 



A Cloudy Weekend

It has been eight years since I last smoked a cigarette. Every so often the urge to smoke rears its ugly head and the demon weed tries to seduce me. The seduction lasts for only a millisecond, but it is a long hour. It passes, and life resumes its course. But I’m left thinking — you are never free of addiction!

For the past few days, news—general, economic, and technology— and its interpretation has had a similar narcotic hold over me. Even though it has been more than a year, my mind has not washed the dateline drug from its crevices. There are times when the old twitch returns and has me reaching for the nearest keyboard — usually my iPhone 6 plus — tapping out a few lines. After two paragraphs I abandon the effort, realizing that the news has already been reduced to its bare essence — a tweet. Ironically, if you started your career working for a newswire, you always knew that the essence of the news is that first alert — a headline — that goes out. Everything else is just something to fill the pages.

These past two weeks have been “twitchy” weeks, and my Quip folder is full of half-finished drafts. Many of them prompted by the news events that have a connection with my personal storyline. There was a time when in the pages of Red Herring, I (wrongly) argued that as the world was going all fiber, and Alcatel would emerge as a leading networking equipment maker. Instead it merged with Lucent, and the results were as nutritious as freedom fries. So, a few weeks ago when Nokia, when another company whose story is interwoven with my own storyline, bought Alcatel-Lucent, more memories surfaced. Memories from a different era, when I was a pure network and telecoms reporter.

The rumors of the deal, first reported by Bloomberg, reminded me of an old research report, where one of the Wall Street analysts (in the aftermath of telecom bust) pointed out that there would be, at most, four or five equipment vendors to service the needs of mobile network operators. I’ve forgotten his name, and also the name of the investment bank—but he was right. Well, almost.

If memory serves, he believed the major vendors would be Motorola, Nortel, Lucent, Ericsson, and Nokia. Today, Motorola and Nortel are history. Lucent, along with Alcatel, will soon join them. Siemens is now part of Nokia. The consolidation moves in weird ways, but the big winner is a company that wasn’t even on the radar at the time of my prediction—Huawei. They dominate the world, thanks to their expansion into emerging African and Asian telecom economies. Huawei are in Russia and in Latin America. Huawei is big because the Chinese Government wants them to be big and thus they play by rules which are unique to them.

Nokia, on the other hand, is a company desperately trying to reinvent itself as a wireless networking hardware company. It’s betting that by getting bigger, it can compete with Huawei and Ericsson and a slew of other smaller vendors. There’s much that should worry the crap out of Nokia shareholders, however, challenges that I began to write about in a blog post that I soon abandoned, mostly because it no longer really mattered. No one wanted to talk about the deal, this $17 billion deal, by the next day.

And there was the news of GoogleFi—announced, tellingly, on the Google blog and not in some publication. Google’s MVNO-based service marries WiFi and Cellular back haul (from T-Mobile and Sprint) in a seamless manner, and delivers it using (only) new Google Nexus devices. Incindentally, It is something companies like Republic Wireless have been attempting.

In France, Free has similarly been working towards this vision. However, to see something I’d written about nearly a decade ago come to fruition (albeit in a different flavor) was a flashback moment. It was a moment when I met a fast talking Chris Sacca — who desperately tried to talk me out of writing a piece for Business 2.0. Friendship followed but the piece went ahead anyway.

And there was the biggest news of 2015: Amazon Web Services is nearly a six billion-dollar-a-year business and growing fast. It is profitable, and it pads Amazon’s bottom line in a way the core business cannot. I have been a believer in Amazon’s cloud foray long before we started using the marketing term cloud. It was that belief that it was a fundamental economic shift in how computing and rated equipment was bought and companies acquired their software prompted a column for Business 2.0 and it was the spark that led to us starting the Structure Conference. The disruptive force of on-demand computing was plain as a day. If anything, Amazon’s results should show that cloud computing is under-hyped , and despite all the marketing hype from every other vendor, it is Amazon that is setting the agenda.

Microsoft is using its ecosystem to hoist Azure and make a massive (and often not very well understood) transition—something Jonathan Vanian wrote in his Fortune piece yesterday. The question everyone should be asking is what are IBM, HP, and others going to do? Where is Google? Do we realize how far the mandarins of Mountain View lag behind Amazon? I look at Amazon and I see amazing things. Amazing because they have built a Microsoft Windows-like ecosystem and a cloud operating environment that truly is “full stack.”

Not only does AWS have the proverbial operating system, but through newer applications such as Email it has started to follow the Microsoft “apps” model. And the company keeps increasing its Developer offerings, such as machine learning as a service, launched a few weeks ago. I am surprised by the lack of coverage of something that, just a few years ago, was so exotic and expensive that only hedge funds could pay for it. Or as my good friend Sean Gourley points out, “We are now at the point where ‘advanced’ Data Science is now literally in the same bucket as Mechanical turks and dollar-a-TB storage.”

But I’ll let others who are at the frontlines figure out the words and the news. I look at these unfinished posts of mine and get that millisecond of ticklish feeling. Wondering, what if…

April 26, 2015, San Francisco.