Mobile internet trends

It seems like everything goes mobile these days. Mobile phones get smarter, tablets get more and more popular and people use their mobile phones for much more than voice. Mobile internet usage includes news, entertainment, shopping, social networking and much more.

The Facts on mobile internet

First of all – what is mobile internet? It is the usage of internet on mobile devices such as handhelds, tablets, personal assistants, netbooks or laptops. It has become quite popular in the past 3 years growing growing from under 1% of total internet traffic in 2009 to more than 10% in 2012.

The mobile internet is expected to surpass desktop internet by 2014, as shown in the attached graph (source). Such a fast adoption rate is caused by:

  1. Decrease in PC sales (HP sales in the US decreased 12 percent in the second quarter of 2012 and Dell’s PC sales decreased by 9%).
  2. Increase in tablet and smartphones adoption (Apple alone has shipped over 60 million tablets in just 2 years from launch and more than 20 million iphones)
  3. Decrease in 3G connectivity costs (Idea Cellular decreased the costs for 3G connectivity in India by 70% )
  4. Mobile penetration is disproportionately larger than internet penetration. The global mobile adoption rate is now 86.7% . The global internet adoption rate is 32.7%. Mobile operators will grab out and reach the treasure that is mobile data traffic. They have the infrastructure, the clients and the distribution.
  5. Voice has been steadily declining compared to data traffic in developed countries.

Mobile internet plans are decreasing and adoption rate is increasing – what now?

With mobile internet plans decreasing we will see a clear increase in adoption rate. There is still a long way to go as mobile traffic accounts for only 10% of all internet traffic. Taking into account the fact that Internet has just 32.7% penetration we see that there is a huge opportunity there: mobile internet traffic is due to increase by at least 1000% in the next five years.

How can we benefit from mobile traffic growth?

Using this date one might think of this potential opportunities:

  1. Increase in cheap smartphones sales. As you can see in a previous article almost 75% of all mobile phones are owned by consumers in developing countries. This consumers need low-cost, decent performance, mobile internet ready devices.
  2. Increase in mobile operators revenue. The untapped potential of data traffic is even bigger than the one voice plans had. Mobile operators already have the client base, the mobile infrastructure and the distribution network to reach this potential market.
  3. Increase in mobile commerce: whether retail or paid apps distribution the mobile sales will increase in the future, even at a faster rate.
  4. Premium mobile entertainment: just like apps, paid entertainment will develop at an exponential rate in the future.
  5. Decreased market for desktop based software companies: Microsoft has already began to feel the surge in desktop sales as desktop based software such as Microsoft Windows, Microsoft Office will either adapt or fade away.

Mobile phones to help save lives

There are almost 6 billion mobile phones in the world and almost three quarters of these mobile phones are in developing countries. The mobile phones are probably the best connection people of the world have right now. With costs dropping and mobile penetration closing in to 100% mobile phones might be some of the best ways to tap into human behavior, especially in the developing world.

Digicel, the largest mobile operator in Haiti offered anonymized data regarding the post-earthquake behavior of almost 600 000 people. Results were astonishing. Using the data provided scientists Xin Lu and Linus Bentsson managed to create an algorithm that was able to predict with a 85% accuracy where were people going to go after the disaster.

Mister Xin Lu and Linus Bentsson started FlowMinder.org , a place where they can share their research and mobile operator data for NGOs and relief agencies. They believe that the 30 million people displaced by natural disasters can benefit form this and offer Haiti study as a proof of concept.

What are the opportunities and dangers ?

Several uses can be found in working with such data:

  1. Mobile medical assistance – there are places where the patient to doctor ratio is close to 20.000:1 . Using mobile services and self-help information we can states and private companies can setup healthcare automated services that can deliver helpful information to those in need. Moreover such services can help track the appearance of epidemics and evolution of diseases.
  2. Mobile war relief – on most cases war victims are just estimated statistics and data is gathered rather slow. Real time information is of the utmost importance when dealing with war casualties and refugees. NGO’s and relief agencies can quickly get an outlook on the situation and provide assistance where and when is needed most.
  3. Help fight literacy issues with mobile services – Ghana has an adult literacy level of 64% and an mobile penetration of 80.5% . Using mobile services and in the future rich media streamed through smartphones is a quick and cheap way to fight illiteracy issues.
  4. Help setup the base for barter-based markets in developing countries – using classifieds like services through mobile phones governments in developing countries can fight poverty and hunger while at the same time encouraging micro-entrepreneurial movements.

The dangers of  using mobile data

While many positive ways to use mobile services can be found there are several issues that arise such as privacy, ethical usage of data, security of provided data etc. For example – having data publicly available in a natural disaster such as the Haiti earthquake one might wonder how would this kind of data be used by robbers.

Even worse – in such tragic events such as war, public availability of data can, in the wrong hands, result in many deaths and suffering.

I can only hope that in this connected world we will all feel closer to one another, we will be able to put aside our differences and use technology for good rather than personal interests.