More mobiles than humans in 2012, says Cisco

mobile phones from the year 2000
Image caption Mobile data has come a long way since the start of the millennium

Mobile devices will outnumber humans this year, according to network firm Cisco'slatest analysis of global mobile data traffic.

By 2016 it predicts that there will be 10 billion mobile connected devices around the world.

By the same date networks will be carrying 130 exabytes of data each year, equivalent to 33 billion DVDs.

Mobile data traffic in 2011 was eight times the size of the global internet in 2000, according to the report.

Gigabyte club

The rise in data consumption is likely to cause more problems for mobile operators already struggling to cope with demand.

Currently the average smartphone uses 150 megabytes of data per month but this is expected to rise to 2.6 gigabytes by 2016, the report found.

"By 2016, 60% of mobile users - three billion people worldwide - will belong to the Gigabyte Club, each generating more than one gigabyte of mobile data traffic per month," said Suraj Shetty, vice-president of products and solutions at Cisco.

There are various factors that are pushing data consumption ever higher.

People are using more tablet devices which are even more data-hungry than smartphones, the report found.

According to Cisco, tablet use exploded in 2011 - tripling to 34 million devices, each of which is generating over three times more traffic than smartphones. By 2016 it predicts that tablets will account for more than 10% of global mobile traffic.

Streaming video

Another factor is faster networks. 4G is currently only available for about 0.2% of mobile connections but they already account for 6% of mobile data traffic, the report said.

Using mobile data on a 4G connection generates 28% more traffic than a non-4G connection, it found.

Apple's iPhones had a reputation for using up more bandwidth than other handsets but the study found that Android consumption is now equal to, if not higher, to iPhone consumption in the US and Western Europe.

Seb Lahtinen, from broadband news site ThinkBroadband, is unsurprised by the findings.

"Most of us use a smart phone on trains, but we still struggle to get a good signal.

"As speeds and quality increases, more users will start watching streaming videos on mobiles, which is likely to lead to an explosion in mobile traffic growth," he said.