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The World’s Most Used Apps, by Downstream Traffic

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The World’s Most Used Apps by Downstream Traffic

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The World’s Most Used Apps, by Downstream Traffic

Of the millions of apps available around the world, just a small handful of the most used apps dominate global internet traffic.

Everything connected to the internet takes bandwidth to view. When you look at something on your smartphone—whether it’s a new message on Instagram or the next few seconds of a YouTube video—your device is downloading the data in the background.

And the bigger the files, the more bandwidth is utilized. In this chart, we break down of the most used apps by category, using Sandvine’s global mobile traffic report for 2021 Q1.

Video Drives Global Mobile Internet Traffic

The biggest files use the most data, and video files take the cake.

According to Android Central, streaming video ranges from about 0.7GB per hour of data for a 480p video to 1.5GB per hour for 1080. A 4K stream, the highest resolution currently offered by most providers, uses around 7.2GB per hour.

That’s miles bigger than audio files, where high quality 320kbps music streams use an average of just 0.12GB per hour. Social network messages are usually just a few KB, while the pictures found on them can range from a few hundred KB for a low resolution image to hundreds of MB for high resolution.

Understandably, breaking down mobile downstream traffic by app category shows that video is on top by a long shot:

CategoryDownstream Traffic Share (2021 Q1)
Video Streaming48.9%
Social Networking19.3%
Web13.1%
Messaging6.7%
Gaming4.3%
Marketplace4.1%
File Sharing1.3%
Cloud1.1%
VPN and Security0.9%
Audio0.2%

Video streaming accounts for almost half of mobile downstream traffic worldwide at 49%. Audio streaming, including music and podcasts, accounts for just 0.2%.

Comparatively, social network and web browsing combined make up one third of downstream internet traffic. Games, marketplace apps, and file sharing, despite their large file sizes, only require one-time downloads that don’t put as big of a strain on traffic as video does.

A Handful of Companies Own the Most Used Apps

Though internet traffic data is broken down by category, it’s worth noting that many apps consume multiple types of bandwidth.

For example, messaging and social network apps, like WhatsApp, Instagram, and Snapchat, allow consumers to stream video, social network, and message.

Even marketplace apps like iTunes and Google Play consume bandwidth for video and audio streaming, and together account for 6.3% of total mobile downstream traffic.

But no single app had a bigger footprint than YouTube, which accounts for 20.4% of total global downstream bandwidth.

CategoryTop Apps (Category Traffic)Category Traffic Share
Video StreamingYouTube47.9%
Video StreamingTikTok16.1%
Video StreamingFacebook Video14.6%
Video StreamingInstagram12.1%
Video StreamingNetflix4.3%
Video StreamingOther5.0%
Social NetworkingFacebook50.5%
Social NetworkingInstagram41.9%
Social NetworkingTwitter2.4%
Social NetworkingOdnoklassniki1.9%
Social NetworkingQQ0.7%
Social NetworkingOther2.9%
MessagingWhatsApp31.4%
MessagingSnapchat16.5%
MessagingFacebook VoIP14.3%
MessagingLINE12.1%
MessagingSkype4.1%
MessagingOther21.6%
WebGoogle41.2%
WebOther58.8%

The world’s tech giants had the leading app in the four biggest data streaming categories. Alphabet’s YouTube and Google made up almost half of all video streaming and web browsing traffic, while Facebook’s own app, combined with Instagram and WhatsApp, accounted for 93% of global social networking traffic and 45% of messaging traffic.

Traffic usage by app highlights the data monopoly of tech giants and internet providers. Since just a few companies account for a majority of global smartphone internet traffic, they have a lot more bartering power (and responsibility) when it comes to our general internet consumption.

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