The continuing increase in the amount of data consumed over fixed and mobile networks reflects an ever-growing demand for online video content services, but according to ACMA, this rise in data traffic seems to be driven more by intensity of use rather than significant growth in device subscriptions.
Australia’s hunger for more and more data is detailed in ACMA’s Communications report 2015–16 tabled in the federal parliament on Wednesday, with the volume of data downloaded increasing by 114% over the last two years, from one million terabytes in the June quarter 2014 to 2.2 million terabytes in the June quarter 2016.
We go online in multiple ways, too, with 77% of online Australians aged 18 and over using a mobile phone to access the Internet, 75% using a laptop, 61% accessing via a desktop computer and 54% using a tablet.
Catch-up and subscription video options, particularly video content downloads, have driven data usage, rather than growth in the number of device plans, the ACMA notes.
The report also shows how the data-driven shift is reflected in the changing profile of Australians’ use of communications services.
Fixed-line telephone subscriptions continue to decline (down 4%), while mobile phone and Internet subscriptions continue to increase (up 2.6% and 4.5% respectively).
Over-the-top communication services such as subscription video on demand (SVOD), free-to-air (FTA) live streaming and catch-up services continue to attract increasing numbers of subscribers, with 2.7 million paid or free trial subscriptions in the past two years.
But TV is not dead. The ACMA report shows that watching free-to-air television live still represents the largest share (59%) of the weekly average time Australian adults spend watching television or video content (excluding pre-recorded DVDs).
The ACMA also says that Australians’ increasing appetite for digital content is driving profound changes in mobile device use, services, infrastructure and content delivery.
“The continuing increase in digital data traffic has been the main cause of change in the communications sector over the past year,’ said acting ACMA chairman Richard Bean.
He says the communications industry’s ongoing infrastructure investment has accelerated in response to the growth of data download volumes and the “continuation of the NBN rollout, expansion of 4G networks, commitments to the rollout of 5G services, and increased planning for submarine cable infrastructure will all contribute to the capacity of communications networks to meet demand”.
Key highlights of the ACMA report include:
• Data traffic appears to be driven more by increasing intensity of usage, particularly downloading of video content, rather than significant growth in device subscriptions;
• While smartphone use is on the rise, shipments of smartphones declined by 18% in the 12 months to June 2016, and tablet shipments declined by 12% over the same period;
• There were 32.59 million mobile services in operation at June 2016, up almost 3% on the previous year, driven by large increases in M2M communications and wholesale services;
• 31% of adult Australians had a mobile phone and no fixed-line telephone at home (fixed internet not included);
• Telecommunications companies continue to invest in emerging mobile technologies and prepare their networks for increased data traffic; and
• Operators of 4G mobile networks now cover up to 98% of the population. There was a range of 5G-related announcements over 2015–16, including the commitment to work towards a commercial 5G mobile network deployment in 2020.