Fact Checking: Has Mobile Traffic Really Surpassed Desktop in India?

One of the most interesting statistics in Mary Meeker's Internet Trends presentation was that in India, the world's second largest Internet market, the Mobile Web surpassed the Desktop Web during May 2012. A closer analysis reveals that a) mobile only passed desktop during weekends; and b) India's mobile stats are vastly different from any other country's. The global average is only 10% mobile traffic, so has India's mobile traffic been miscounted?

The extraordinary graph above, from Meeker's slides and sourced from web traffic monitoring company Statcounter, shows that mobile Internet traffic in India was almost zero in 2009 and the Desktop Internet close to 100%. Just three short years later, mobile traffic edged past desktop traffic. Or at least it did during parts of May 2012.

It turns out you can check these statistics for yourself, on the Statcounter Global Stats website. This shows that although mobile traffic may have surpassed desktop traffic in India on some days during May, on average desktop traffic was still slightly ahead: 51.29% desktop vs. 48.71% mobile.

The daily traffic graph for India in May reveals that mobile Internet overtook desktop only during the weekends. As a Statcounter representative put it, "mobile browsing peaks at weekends, while desktop browsing is more popular during the working week."

Incidentally, while it's a bit harder to spot the trend in the following graph, U.S. daily data also shows upward bumps every weekend. So the mobile = weekend trend appears to be a global one.

Why Are India's Stats So Different To Other Countries?

The main mystery is why India's mobile traffic statistics are so different from other countries, since the global mobile traffic average is only 10%.

In Japan, which has traditionally been ahead of the curve in mobile, traffic from mobile devices only accounts for 6.4% of its total traffic. In China, it's 4.18%. In the entire continent of Africa, where mobile phone technology is widely used, it's 12.96% (the trend line there has actually dipped in 2012, from a high of 19.17% in January). Meanwhile in the United States, the home of the world's most popular smartphone operating systems iOS and Android, mobile traffic is 9.13% (see graph below).

Faulty Stats?

There has been some suggestion from within India that these statistics aren't representative.

The argument is that Statcounter's data is over-represented by mobile Internet early adopters in India. On its Twitter account, Statcounter responded that it tracks over 900 million page views from Indian IPs per month. While it admits that this is only a sampling of total India traffic, Statcounter insists that it is "a large enough statistical sample [to] approximate the real population."

What's Behind The Mobile Growth in India?

While I think Statcounter's data may be a little suspect, I do agree that 900 million is a significant enough sampling to show the trend. Which leads us to question what is behind that trend; and should we pay it much heed?

One answer is from another slide from Mary Meeker, which showed that 3G subscriptions in India grew by 841% over the past year. India now has 39 million 3G subscribers, up from 4 million a year ago. It should be noted that India still trails the U.S., which has 208 million 3G subscribers, by quite a margin. The difference is that India has a much lower market penetration for mobile than the U.S. (4% in India, 64% in the U.S.).

It's also likely that mobile Internet is more cost efficient and convenient than desktop in many parts of India.

The bottom line is that India is still a very young market for mobile Internet. So readers in more mature mobile markets, like the U.S. and Japan, shouldn't read too much into the India stats. One thing is for sure though, mobile traffic is increasing fast in most countries in the world. Of that statistic, there is no doubt.