Ericsson: North Americans to use 26 GB per month by 2022, up from 6.9 GB in 2017

It’s fairly well-known that mobile data traffic is skyrocketing and that mobile video traffic now accounts for more than half of all mobile data traffic.

But Ericsson’s latest Mobility Report indicates that operators are going to have to do a lot more to prepare for the onslaught of far greater consumption: In just five short years, North American consumers are expected to move from an average of 5 GB of mobile data usage to a whopping 26 GB.

North America has the highest usage, and traffic is expected to reach 6.9 GB per month per active smartphone by the end of 2017. That’s almost twice as high as Western Europe, the region with the second highest usage based on Ericsson’s report, where it’s set to reach 3.9 GB per month per smartphone by the end of 2017.

Globally, mobile data traffic grew 70% between the first quarter of 2016 and the first quarter of 2017, with mobile video traffic driving much of that, mostly through Netflix but also YouTube and other video content. Social networking is the second largest traffic volume contributor for smartphones.

While the millimeter wave spectrum bands that operators are experimenting with now are not so great for coverage, they are super for capacity, and that’s one way operators will strive to meet all this demand for mobile data. In the U.S., the FCC allocated spectrum above 24 GHz for 5G, and 5G is going to be tightly integrated with 4G networks.

In 2022, the number of 5G subscriptions is forecast to reach more than 500 million, and to put that into context, “we’re at zero today,” said Glenn Laxdal, head of Network Products for Ericsson North America. “That's a significant ramp.”

But when you introduce 5G in the millimeter wave spectrum, and “you pair that with 4G, you get the best of both worlds,” he said, with 4G acting as a coverage layer and 5G in the millimeter wave spectrum as a capacity layer.

Ericsson’s Mobility Report also shows that the number of Voice over LTE (VoLTE) subscriptions continues to grow and is expected to exceed 540 million by the end of 2017. The reason it hasn’t blanketed the world just yet is it tracks with areas that have deployed LTE. And while LTE is widely deployed in North America, that’s not the case in other regions.

Globally, there are only about 2 billion LTE subscribers out of a total 7.5 billion mobile subscribers, so LTE is maybe 20% of global penetration. In addition, not all handsets are VoLTE-capable yet, including in the U.S. Out of about 380 million subscribers in the U.S., only about 270 million of them have VoLTE devices.

Operators are moving toward IMS systems, which are used to deliver VoLTE, but interestingly, VoLTE service is used by fewer people in places like Europe, where many launched networks still require subscribers to configure VoLTE themselves in the device settings or to buy a special VoLTE subscription, according to Ericsson’s report.

Wi-Fi calling is based on the same core network systems as VoLTE and enables operators to extend their voice service to places with limited cellular service.

The report indicates there’s still a lot of runway left in LTE. Currently, 591 commercial LTE networks are deployed in 189 countries and out of these, 194 have been upgraded to LTE-A networks.