Think you use a lot of mobile data now? Wait until 2020

Mobile networks will cover 90 percent of the world as smartphone subscriptions more than double to 6.1 billion by 2020, according to Ericsson's research.

Roger Cheng Former Executive Editor / Head of News
Roger Cheng (he/him/his) was the executive editor in charge of CNET News, managing everything from daily breaking news to in-depth investigative packages. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade and got his start writing and laying out pages at a local paper in Southern California. He's a devoted Trojan alum and thinks sleep is the perfect -- if unattainable -- hobby for a parent.
Expertise Mobile, 5G, Big Tech, Social Media Credentials
  • SABEW Best in Business 2011 Award for Breaking News Coverage, Eddie Award in 2020 for 5G coverage, runner-up National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Award for culture analysis.
Roger Cheng
2 min read

Ericsson has a sizeable presence at the Mobile World Congress conference every year. Sarah Tew / CNET

By 2020, mobile networks will be virtually ubiquitous.

With network speeds jumping up, we may all end up mobile data hogs, according to a mobility report conducted by network equipment manufacturer Ericsson twice a year. Each month, the average smartphone in North America consumes 2.4 gigabytes, or the equivalent of about 10 hours of streaming video. By 2020, that usage could rise nearly sixfold to 14 GB a month.

The report underscores the ever-growing consumption of mobile data -- everything from streaming Netflix videos to uploading Facebook photos -- and the sheer amount of time people spend on their smartphones and mobile devices such as tablets. It's also part of Ericsson's oft-touted idea of the "Networked Society," or the idea that everything has a wireless connection and can talk to everything else.

"This immense growth in advanced mobile technology and data usage, driven by a surge in mobile connectivity and smartphone uptake, will make today's big data revolution feel like the arrival of a floppy disk," Rima Qureshi, chief strategy officer for Ericsson, said in a statement.

Ericsson conducts the study regularly, and has a vested interest in seeing its vision come true. More mobile data usage means more demand for the products and services of one of the world's largest telecom equipment vendor.

While scores of companies are concerning themselves with connecting everything from t-shirts to washing machines, smartphones will still make up the lion's share of data usage. Smartphones will make up 80 percent of all global mobile data. The number of smartphones are also expected to jump: the company sees the total more than doubling to 6.1 billion subscriptions.

By 2020, 70 percent of the world will be using a smartphone, and mobile data networks will cover 90 percent of the population, the report said.

Ericsson's research is critical to everything from making sure a simple cellphone works, to allowing someone to remotely control a massive excavator from 2,500 kilometers away via a wireless connection and virtual reality goggles.

2020 is a key date for Ericsson. It's the year that much of the industry -- Ericsson included -- believes the wireless carriers will begin to make a big push for 5G wireless technology, or the next generation beyond the current technology, which promises higher speeds and an improved ability to manage multiple devices that are talking to each other.