Cisco’s new annual forecast predicts that 71% of global population will be mobile subscribers by 2023

The rise of the machines is happening. By 2023, there will be more than three times more networked devices on Earth than humans, according to Cisco’s new Annual Internet Report analysis and forecast. About half of the global connections will be machine-to-machine connections, Cisco said, and the M2M space will be dominated by consumer-oriented “things” in smart homes and automobiles.

The Cisco AIR (formerly Cisco’s Visual Networking Index or VNI) found that by 2023, there will be 5.3 billion total Internet users (66% of global population) up from 3.9 billion (51% of global population) in 2018, Cisco said. But that figure is dwarfed by the number of overall connected devices: 29.3 billion networked devices by 2023, compared to 18.4 billion in 2018.

“There is a lot of growth that still can happen from a user perspective,” said Shruti Jain, senior analyst with Cisco. Meanwhile, she added, “machine-to-machine is going to grow phenomenally.”

In a mobile context, about 70% of the global population will have mobile-network-based connectivity by 2023, Cisco found, with the total number of mobile subscribers growing from 66% of the population in 2018 to 71% of the population (5.7 billion) by 2023. Of those, about 10% will be 5G connections by the end of the forecast period, with the number of global mobile devices rising from 8.8 billion in 2018 to 13.1 billion, with 1.4 billion of those being 5G-capable.

The fastest growing mobile device category over the forecast period are M2M devices, with mobile M2M devices expected to see a compound annual growth rate of 30% through 2023. The second-fastest connected device category is that of smartphones, which are pegged to grow at a CAGR of 7%.

Global mobile networks aren’t faster than wired networks, but Cisco expects that they will improve their speeds faster than wireline networks. While fixed broadband network speeds are forecast to more than double, from around 45.9 Mbps in 2018 to 110.4 Mbps in 2023; but mobile network speeds are expected to triple, going from an average of 13.2 Mbps in 2018 to 43.9 Mbps by 2023.

Jain noted that as mobile network speeds approach those of wireline networks, it opens up new possibilities for mobile applications.

“Soon, those speeds are going to get very close to Wi-Fi and [wired]broadband speeds, and be able to support a lot of new applications and experiences,” she said.

Meanwhile, 5G speeds are anticipated to be 13-times faster than the average mobile connection speed: 575 Mbps by 2023.

Jain said that while 4G was a driver for smartphones and dynamic information access via those devices, 5G presents the potential of entirely new business use cases, particularly in developing and driving business use cases for M2M connectivity via its capability to support high device density and network slicing. However, Cisco also sees low-power wide area networks (LPWA) as “very important for M2M,” Jain added, until 5G can cost-effectively support both high-end and low-end device capabilities and data rates. LPWA’s share of connections is anticipated to grow from about 2.5% in 2018 to 14% (1.9 billion) by 2023, according to Cisco.

Among the other findings from the 2020 Cisco AIR:

-The number of devices per person will continue to rise, from 2.4 networked devices per capita in 2018 to 3.6 devices by 2023.

-The number of public Wi-Fi hot spots will increase fourfold by 2023, to nearly 628 million.

-Almost 300 million mobile applications will be downloaded by 2023, with the most popular ones being social media, gaming and business applications.

-Power users’ impact is dwindling. Cisco found that globally, the top 1% of mobile data users accounted for 5% of mobile data in 2019. That has dropped significantly since 2010, when the top 1% of mobile users accounted for 52% of mobile data usage.

For more details, dive into the data from Cisco’s 2020 AIR here.

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