Numbers Too Big to Make Sense

I was at the ACCELERATE conference in Atlanta yesterday, the classy Web analytics conference run by the (rapidly growing) Web Analytics Demystified team. The presenters and content were top-shelf across the board, as you would expect from such a talented and experienced group. Josh West, Partner at Demystified and Adobe Analytics expert extraordinaire dropped this bomb during Q&A:

More mobile devices are activated each day than there are babies being born.

Huh? Say again? What the? I don’t think I heard anything else for the next 10 or 15 minutes as my brain tried to get some kind of handle on this data-point grenade. How many mobile devices is that, really?

“In the first decade of the 21st century, the number of people connected to the internet worldwide increased from 350 million to more than 2 billion. In the same period, the number of mobile-phone subscribers rose from 750 million to well over 5 billion (it is now [2013] over 6 billion).”1

UNICEF estimates that an average of 353,000 babies are born each day around the world. The CIA World Factbook puts the number at 367,576. Even if we round way up, and say 375,000, just the number of Android devices activated each day is 1,500,000.2

So, at least 4 times the number of babies being born - JUST for Android devices. Whoa.

Motorola DynaTac
Photo: Rene Walter

There are (roughly) 7.2 billion people on the planet. That number includes lots of little ones in diapers. OK, yes, some older ones in diapers too. Let’s just call them outliers or non cell phone users. In May of this year, the International Telecommunication Union estimated3 there were nearly 7 billion mobile subscriptions worldwide. “This is equivalent to 95.5 percent of the world population.”

“Ericsson have forecast that global mobile internet subscriptions will reach 4.5 billion by the end of 2018, with the mobile phone remaining the most frequently used access device”.4 So more than half the planet will have mobile internet subscriptions? The Web in their pocket. We’re gonna need more cat pictures.

Mary Meeker points out there’s still A LOT of upside potential in smartphone growth as a percentage of total mobile subscribers, as only about 30% of mobile is smartphones today, but as smartphones continue to get cheaper, that accelerating growth rate should continue to follow the steep growth trend of the recent past.

These numbers are freaking me out a bit. How much traffic is running over the tubes through all these pocket computers? Cisco5 says that in 2013, global mobile data traffic grew more than 81 percent, year over year, to 1.5 exabytes per month.

Exabytes? I work on the Web all day long and I can’t guess how many bits and bytes that is. Apparently, that’s the storage capacity of 250 million DVDs. Two hundred and fifty million DVDs worth of cat pictures, animated GIFs, Snapchats, Insta-flickr-book-face photos, Vines, and who knows what else going through CELL PHONES. Every month. Really?

If Kevin Kelly6 is right (again) and “the internet is still at the beginning of its beginning”, we still have some time to work out all of those mobile strategies we keep hearing we need to fix, and pivot, and execute. Numbers like these make me think “mobile first” should really think long and hard about the “mobile only” generation, which appears to be coming up in the rearview really freakin fast. Like a multi-exabyte tidal wave. Better clench up, Legolas.

  1. Schmidt, Eric, and Jared Cohen. [The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business]( S.l.: John Murray, 2013.

  2. “Eric Schmidt: Google now at 1.5 million Android activations per day”, Engadget,

  3. “Global mobile statistics 2014 Part A: Mobile subscribers; handset market share; mobile operators”, mobiThinking,

  4. Mobile/Smartphones, ETC Digital Portal,

  5. “Cisco Visual Networking Index: Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast, 2013–2018”,,

  6. “You Are Not Late”, Medium,