Apps Are Eating the Global Wireless Spectrum, Warns XMG's Ray Sharma

Apps consume 1,192 petabytes of data annually

Consumers are expected to download over 32 billion apps in 2012. That's a staggering number by any measure. For example, it took iTunes more than eight years to accomplish a total of 16 billion songs downloaded. If we look at app download growth in terms of data consumption, the number is even more staggering. Assuming that the average app is 10 megabytes – and that the average user updates their app three times – the total amount of data consumption is over 1,192 petabytes. A single petabyte is over one million gigabytes. Worldwide Google traffic is 24 petabytes per day and all of AT&T's network traffic combined is 19 petabytes per day. 50 petabytes is equivalent to the entire written history of man based on all languages.


The load of 1,192 petabytes of app traffic on the global network is mitigated by factors including downloads being spread across a large base of smartphone users over a long period of time. Yet this data load will continue to grow as apps proliferate to other computing platforms such as TVs, consoles, automobiles, and homes. Basically any device that can justify having the equivalent of a $200 Kindle's hardware built-in will have an app store of its own. Now consider growing app file sizes, increasing smartphone penetration, proliferation of app stores (even ignoring the data usage of the apps themselves), and it's clear we have an interesting fundamental situation developing in compounding data usage on mobile. If 'software is eating the world', then apps are certainly at the centre of this phenomenon. With geometrically increasing data needs, apps are metaphorically eating the global wireless spectrum.

Unforeseen circumstances

The most interesting part of this is that no one expected it. The success of apps has exceeded even the expectations of those who were behind the creation of this industry. We often forget that the iPhone team originally proposed that developers make web-based apps, and recent biographies of the late Steve Jobs reveals that the creative genius was originally against 'polluting' the device by opening it up to installable applications. Only after lobbying efforts and a competitive race between software groups did the App Store emerge in 2008. If the innovators themselves could not anticipate the success of downloadable apps, then what are the chances that the network operators, digital media industries, or anyone touched by the app economy anticipated the present flood of app traffic?

In my next post, we will look at the amount of users’ time that apps now occupy.Much like the data consumption numbers prove, it appears there is another unexpected phenomenon as apps continue to eat the world.

Written by Ray Sharma, President and Founder of XMG Studio Inc. Published in June 19th, 2012.