What’s driving mobile growth worldwide?

It's video – not social – accounting for the world's mobile minutes.

Global technology company Ericsson has released its latest mobile subscription report, revealing not only how many more people are connecting around the world via mobile, but also what they’re connecting to.

Mobile subscriptions in the world actually outnumber the population, according to the report; there were around eight billion subscriptions as of Q3 (ended Nov. 30). The reason subscriptions tend to be more than populations, according to Ericsson, is because of factors such as corporate or business subscriptions. Nevertheless, penetration for mobile among individuals is high. The eight billion figure represents growth of 3% year-over-year this quarter.

Globally, 52% of those subscriptions are on LTE. That’s expected to change, however, starting next year. With the rise of 5G, LTE subscriptions will start to decrease in 2021, according to Ericsson, and by 2029, with 8.9 billion mobile subscriptions around the world, more than one-fifth of that will be on 5G. While 5G is still in its early stages, Ericsson estimates there will be 19 million mobile subscriptions on 5G by the end of this year.

In North America, mobile subscription penetration is already high; the quarter ended with a total of 385 million mobile subscriptions, meaning there’s approximately 0.66 mobile subscriptions for every person on the continent. However, the net new additions for mobile subscriptions were only two million, meaning 0.5% of current mobile subscribers in North America were added in the last quarter. Growth is similarly modest in regions such as Latin America, Western Europe and Central/Eastern Europe, but tended to be higher in Africa (where net new additions represented 1.4% of mobile subscriptions). China (0.9%), APAC minus China (1%) and the Middle East (7%).

What’s driving those subscribers? Access to video appears to be one of the biggest priorities for mobile users.

Video already accounts for most mobile traffic, at 63%. By 2025, it will grow exponentially in terms of traffic and share, taking 76% of a much bigger traffic pie. The traffic growth, according to Ericsson, is driven by the increase of embedded video in online apps, growth in VOD streaming services in terms of both subscribers and viewing time per subscriber, and higher screen resolutions on devices.

Social network traffic is also expected to rise 20% annually over the next six years; however its relative share of traffic will decline to 8% in 2015 (from 10% in 2019) because of the growth of video.