There Are 7 Billion Mobile Devices On Earth, Almost One For Each Person

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The adoption of new technologies is accelerating, and nowhere is the trend more obvious than in mobile computing. It took telephones some 45 years to enter mainstream use in the US. Mobile phones took seven years. Smartphones just four.

Today, according to Cisco’s 2013 global mobile data forecast, there are almost as many mobile devices (7 billion) as there are humans on the planet, and the mobile data network in 2013 was 18 times greater than the entire Internet in 2000. In North America, monthly data usage doubled to 1.38 gigabytes.

Humans are not just more connected to information and each other, but comparisons to periods even a few decades ago are increasingly meaningless.

seven_billion_mobile_devicesFaster connection speeds are the prime driver of accelerating data. Smartphones made up 77% of the 526 million mobile devices and connections added last year. Of these, many use speedy fourth generation (4G) connections. Though 4G connections are still just 3% of the whole, they're responsible for 30% of traffic.

As much as it’s about connecting people to information, it’s increasingly about connecting devices to computing power. Data-heavy video and music applications, for example, transcend smartphone limitations (processing and storage) by connecting to more powerful servers and software in the cloud.

Apps and services like Netflix and Spotify rent cloud storage, software, and processing speed for a low monthly fee. Thanks to a fast, glitch-free mobile connection, users no longer need to store big multimedia files on their devices.

With cloud computing and fast connections, the smartphone is less a standalone device and more a display that wirelessly plugs into vastly more powerful computers to do things that would be impractical for the device to accomplish alone.

For now applications are multimedia—video hogged half of all mobile data in 2013—but quantified self and health apps are growing more useful and more used. Future applications will measure health data, send it to cloud AIs (like IBM's Watson) for analysis, and return results and potential diagnoses to smartphones and tablets.


More wearable devices, like these Sensoria smart socks, are set to come online.

Beyond smart devices, wearable devices (like Google Glass or smart clothing), and an expanding population of chips embedded in everyday items (the so-called Internet of Things) will contribute to mobile traffic.

Cisco says today’s 341 million Internet-of-Things (or machine-to-machine) connections are poised to grow to two billion in the coming years as wearables and smart infrastructure come online.

By 2018, connected mobile devices will monthly flood the network with 15 times more data  than all Internet traffic in 2000. Meanwhile, global devices and connections, including the Internet of Things, will reach 10 billion, or 1.3 devices per person, in 2018.

These are huge numbers, but due to the sheer variety of potential connections the Internet of Things represents, we might call the guess conservative. Looking back, however, Cisco’s forecasts in years prior have, in fact, tended toward the aggressive.

Not all Internet of Things connections will be mobile, and wearables like Google Glass or smartwatches are, so far, more akin to the Blackberry than the iPhone (if that). But never mind the details, the trend is clear. Faster connections, better devices, and cloud applications are driving exponential growth of wireless networks.

Image Credit: Instagram/TodayShow; Shutterstock.comHeapsylon

Jason Dorrier

Jason is managing editor of Singularity Hub. He cut his teeth doing research and writing about finance and economics before moving on to science, technology, and the future. He is curious about pretty much everything, and sad he'll only ever know a tiny fraction of it all.

Discussion — One Response

  • Matthew February 21, 2014 on 10:25 am

    if they had the money to pay for it. not everyone has nice suits either, like all those people who do have a mobile device in that stock photo for this article on the homepage. or education, clothing, or food. which presumably those people in the nice suits with smartphones also have.

    … I am going to go out on a limb and say it, people. as capital increases exponentially and humans are displaced in every utilitarian regard, corporations and governments are going to have to de centralize the wealth (not just talking money, but our new material capabilities and alternatives). by sheer definition of value, money will lose meaning. the thing about socialism is, at least it allows capital to circulate. if there is enough to go around for everyone, it will work and we will still have increasing standard of living. in fact it will be accelerated. in fact independent economists can now prove with empirical statistical history that more active participants in the economy, more healthy/wealthy/smart people, the economy will be far stronger. we no longer live in this world of limited options and scarcity. what’s scarce is empathy, human rights, and ecological consideration. we need to let go of this last remaining vestige of fatal human tyranny. we need to talk about it more, every single time a new innovation comes out. how will this help suffering people in the world? we no longer tolerate violence and slanderous speech against ethnic minorities, women, gays, etc. but it’s still ok that people are still starving to death in a world of infinitely proliferating possibilities (virtually. let’s not split hairs over semantics. besides as we progress beyond the ‘knee of the curve’ beyond all these exponentials and new fields of science emerge, it is in fact closer and closer to infinity). and if it’s not explicitly saying things to keep these other “social classes” subjugated, it’s turning a blind eye, or just being ignorant which is sad. this is the age of information. ideas are the new capital. we know that as we become aware of our struggles and shed light on them they become solved faster.

    I am not against capitalism. I am against depriving certain groups of people food and shelter just because the world hasn’t found a way to tap their potential. as our material reality continues to be more and more automated and people no longer work, if these post Orwellian big brother conglomerates want to take care of us–fine. it’s not like any of us are capable of returning to hunter/gatherer or agricultural existence. but they had better do it right. they need to delegate the increasingly marginal sums of capital it will take to invent new jobs, for everyone. forget about pay. paper is meaningless, that’s not what this life is about. it’s about 7 billion people visiting a Pandora’s box of impacts upon this planet in a vast number of ways… it’s about international security in this reality of falling costs, increased capabilities. if they don’t invent new ways to occupy literally everyone’s time, then we will occupy it on other, more chaotic ways.

    in a parallel reality thousands of years ago when people were stripped of their utility because of agriculture (vastly more automated, vastly more abundant food production), that is where the chaos began. here is why: our evolutionary impulses and framework have not caught up with the extreme physical changes in our environment. they no longer hunted and gathered in self sufficient families. yet our impulses to kill our prey, eat as much as possible whenever possible, have intercourse as much as possible (even if by force) … these instincts remain. only when the leaders of these new forces of accumulated power came together (often through conflict, to resolve the conflict… a Machiavellian means to an end that is now increasingly obsolete…)–the farmers, the aristocrats, the warring generals, the triumvirates–were we able to come up with a game plan; the first cities, the polis, and democracy. after things were a bit less chaotic we were then able to devote our lives to specialist trades and increase the standard of living for everyone (within the community. the problem now is that the community is global and we now understand that every single human being in it is interconnected in a vast number of ways. not just cisco, but the ways we always were interconnected, but now understand. and increasingly more ways. like guns in movie theatres…).

    we need to end the chaos. similar to the ways we did back then. but this time we don’t wall people out. we include everyone. it is an economic, national security, humanitarian, and ecological imperative that we do. and the only forces capable of doing so are the gargantuan corporations and governments that created us. (we would not exist were it not for canned foods, roads, medicine, etc industrialization). we are so far severed from our human origins yet STILL we have those aforementioned impulses from when we were hunter/gatherers. we are completely incapable of doing this on our own. these systems of power are finally starting to raise the bar and understand the market potential, lucky for human rights and ecology. how much wealth can you extract from a dead planet with no people. it’s just as j. storrs hall predicted in the book ‘beyond ai.’ we are already seeing his vision of the future play out. military ai are more specialized and will not be the first to help us in the infinitely complex ways that humans need. educational ai is the source of the intelligence (liberal democracy, science), but doesn’t have the material capability (capital) to do anything with that power. it is corporations that will be the only ones capable of harnessing all the intelligence, pairing it with their vast material power, in order to adhere to our infinitely complex yet simple to understand human needs and ecology.