Opinion

Column: Cisco's mobile predictions don't entirely add up

Billy MacInnes takes a closer look at Cisco's latest mobility statistics that appear to suggest mobile devices will soon outnumber people.

There was a pretty amazing piece of research from Cisco this week. In a nutshell, the network giant predicted there would be more handheld and personal mobile-ready devices on the planet than there would be people by 2016. To be precise, Cisco believes there will be more than 8 billion of these devices compared to 7.3bn people in five years time.

This led me to conduct my own, limited, research into this incredible phenomenon by taking a closer look at the MacInnes household. At present, we have six handheld or personal mobile-ready devices for a family of six: one iPhone, an iPad, two iPod Touches, my wife's work Blackberry and my eldest daughter's mobile phone. We also have two desktop computers (but I don't think they count) and a decrepit laptop that can't really operate as a mobile device anymore as it always needs to be plugged in because of a logic board fault.

So anyway, we have six at the moment. By 2016, I expect we will possibly have another mobile phone and maybe another tablet. Assuming all the other kit is still working by then, we will have eight handheld or personal mobile-ready devices in our family. If we apply the same ratio to the world population for 2016, there should be around 9.73 billion handheld or personal mobile-ready devices in operation.

Obviously, this figure is skewed because there are bound to be many families in the world, especially in poorer countries, where they may well not even have one device. Also, not all families will have six people. For example, some might have only four people and if the age of their children is nearer to our two youngest than our two eldest, the only devices they have will belong to the parents.

I assume that the number of mobile devices a person owns will be, for the most part, dictated by their relative wealth wherever they are. I'm sure there are already quite a few individuals that own a tablet and smartphone in many richer countries but I doubt there will be four billion by 2016 which, to my mind, would be the easiest way to get to that 8 billion figure.

If you look at current population figures, there are around 731 million people in Europe, 311 million in the US, 385 million in South America, about 1 billion in Africa and 3.9 billion in Asia (which includes China, India, Russia etc). We're looking for an average of 1.095 devices per person in the world. That doesn't stack up for me. 

Here's one reason: in 2010, one in seven people in the world (925 million) were classed as hungry, effectively ruling them out of the equation because people who can't afford to eat properly are unlikely to be buying smartphones or tablets. So maybe we need to look at an average of 1.33 devices per person if we think that possibly 6 billion out of the 8 billion will have a device in 2016. Is that even possible? Who knows but, ironically, that's the exact ratio that will apply in the MacInnes household if we get that extra mobile phone and tablet by 2016.

This was first published in February 2012

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