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Increased penetration of smartphones will drive 3G traffic

Photograph of Mark HeathThe greater sophistication of smartphones compared with basic mobile phones (for example, in terms of display, processing power and storage) is better suited to usage-intensive data services (such as video), thereby generating higher 3G traffic volumes.

As shown in the figure below, the number of smartphones has been increasing significantly year-on-year, and this growth is set to continue. By 2014, there will be nearly three times the number of smartphone shipments globally as there were in 2008.

Chart showing smartphone forecast to 2014 from Unwired Insight

Forecast for global smartphone unit shipments, 2006-2014

Apple’s iPhone has demonstrated the potential of smartphones to generate substantially higher data traffic volumes than basic mobile phones. For example, in August 2008, T-Mobile in the Netherlands announced that the average data usage of the 3G iPhone in the first five days following the launch of the 3G iPhone was 10MB per day – equivalent to 304MB per month.

Sales of the iPhone have increased substantially since its initial launch in June 2007, with a total of 21.2 million iPhones sold by March 2009. The 3G-equipped iPhone was commercially launched in July 2008, and unit sales of the 3G iPhone have significantly exceeded the sales of the first-generation (2G) iPhone. By March 2009, the 3G iPhone accounted for 71% (15.0 million) of total iPhone unit sales.

As demonstrated by a number of research sources, data usage from iPhone users is substantially higher than other mobile users.

In March 2009, T-Mobile in the Netherlands reported that iPhone users surf the Web 30 to 40 times more than other mobile data users.

According to a 2008 survey by Nielsen:

  • 7% of iPhone users watched video on their phone, making them ten times more likely to do so than the average mobile consumer
  • 82% accessed the Internet over their phone, making them five times more likely to do so than the average mobile consumer
  • 17% streamed music over their phone, making them seven times more likely to do so than the average mobile consumer.

In March 2009, a survey of iPhone users in the UK by comScore found that 93% of iPhone owners accessed mobile media in January 2009. 79.7% of iPhone users accessed news and information via the browser, compared with 19.8% of all mobile phone users.

Dr Mark Heath co-founded Unwired Insight in 2001, to provide analysis and market intelligence for the mobile telecommunications industry. Previously he contributed to the standardisation of GSM, UMTS and DECT and held senior roles for a mobile network operator and equipment manufacturer. Mark has written over 40 industry reports and has advised investors, network operators, equipment vendors, lawyers and government bodies.

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