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Why Mobile Data Use Is Booming

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Mobile data traffic is exploding by almost any measure as people increasingly use their phones to watch NFL games, listen to Beyonce tracks and post Snapchat stories. The average North American smartphone subscriber used just over 5 GB of data per month, a 40% increase from last year, according to a report from telecom gear maker Ericsson on Tuesday.

And with even faster wireless technology, dubbed 5G, in the works, data use will increase 45% annually to 25 GB monthly by 2022, the company projected. The biggest gains will come from people using more data for streaming video and social networking, followed by greater usage for streaming audio and software downloads.

While video currently accounts for about half of all data traffic, it will soak up 75% of all traffic in 2022. Google’s (GOOGL) YouTube service accounts for 40% to 70% of all mobile video traffic on most networks worldwide, Ericsson said. Netflix (NFLX) trails far behind, accounting for 10% to 20% of total traffic in its most significant markets. Social networks Facebook (FB) and Twitter (TWTR) have lost data traffic share as consumers have shifted to messaging services such as WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, and Snapchat.

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Carriers are facing a video traffic squeeze, as data use skyrockets, but higher capacity 5G networks won’t be ready for a few more years. On Friday, AT&T (T) said it planned to degrade the quality of all mobile video by default starting next year, although customers can revert to high quality video if they desire without charge. That follows moves by Sprint (S) and T-Mobile (TMUS) to persuade customers to watch video at lower quality to conserve data capacity.

The Ericsson (ERIC) report found evidence that many mobile networks are already starting to reach capacity. One in three people who watch mobile streaming video at home reported suffering from delays or other problems at least once daily, according to surveys Ericsson conducted in 14 markets worldwide. Outdoors, 22% of users reported at least daily problems and 27% said they had glitches at school or work daily.

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Also, on metropolitan 4G LTE networks, currently the fastest technology deployed, one in five subscribers reported getting an achingly slow connection of 300 kilobits per second or less when sending data up to the network. At that speed, a phone’s slow responses to a web page could double the time it takes to load a typical page.

Ericsson also forecast that the number of connected computing devices—everything from traffic sensors in street lamps to drones that delivery products to peoples’ doorsteps—will triple from under 6 billion this year to 18 billion in 2022. The vast majority, however, won’t require cellular network connections, relying instead on short range transmission technologies like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.