Last year was another record breaker for mobile internet usage. Total global mobile network data traffic had amounted to 13,412 petabytes by the end of 2012 -- that's an increase of 69 percent year-on-year.
According to the latest market study by ABI Research, 3G mobile network data usage occupied 46 percent of the total with an increase of 130 percent year-on-year.
4G LTE mobile network traffic is accelerating, with a growth rate of 207 percent in 2013 compared to 99 percent for 3G traffic.
"In developed markets, 4G is rapidly gaining traction. Verizon Wireless, for example, has reported that 50 percent of its data usage is on 4G LTE," said Marina Lu, research associate at ABI Research.
Underpinning mobile data usage are smartphone apps -- their downloads, and the traffic usage they generate, has become a significant contributor to mobile data traffic.
Smartphone app downloads were 36.2 billion for 2012, that's up by 88 percent compared to 2011.
Asia-Pacific has overtaken North America (25 percent), with 39 percent of total smartphone app downloads. IP/web browsing constitutes 51 percent of total mobile data traffic in 2012.
However, by 2018, large mobile device screens and 4G data-speeds will stimulate mobile video streaming/downloads to account for 56 percent of total traffic.
Smartphone apps are a double-edged sword. While they promote the adoption of mobile data tariffs, Over-The-Top Instant Messaging and VoIP services are threatening the mobile network operators’ messaging and voice revenue models.
Regardless, mobile network operators are striving to benefit from the data usage and not just get burdened with data traffic. The emergent growth in enterprise apps does have potential.
ABI says that both ATT and Orange have invested in enterprise apps, setting up their own in-house service teams. Orange is offering Health Trusts mobile-centric ID authentication that allows them to offer confidential and secure mobile medical services that can enhance aftercare support and increase efficiency. There should be more examples of these value-added applications emerging during 2013.