By 2020, connected devices will outnumber connected people by six to one, and mobile broadband will be driving internet usage as fixed connections dwindle, according to a new report.
Worldwide, the number of mobile broadband users already outnumbers fixed broadband users by a ratio of two to one, and that imbalance will only grow over time as more developing country users upgrade their mobile phones to smartphones and tablets.
New concepts such as embedded intelligence, automated machine-to-machine (M2M) traffic, and the 'Internet of Things' are also contributing to the growth in networked devices, and the demand for seamless wireless connectivity has never been greater.
The International Telecommunications Union's latest "State of Broadband" report predicts that the number of connected devices will reach 25 billion by 2020, up from 10 billion on 2011. Meanwhile, the number of mobile subscriptions is expected to double in that time.
The report reveals that while household Internet access has seen strong growth over the past year, individual Internet use continues to lag behind. ITU analysts believe that mobile broadband could prove the boost needed to get progress back on track.
In particular, several trends are driving the move to a mobile high-speed future. These include real-time status updates, location-based services, push notifications, targeted advertising, collaborative crowd-sourcing, cloud storage and changes to our notions of privacy.
"Given the prolific spread of mobile, in the future, the digital divide may no longer describe disparities in access, but instead denote disparities in speed and functionality - or more specifically, what people can do with their mobile devices," states the report.
"Indeed, the handset may become relatively less important, as more and more people will use their mobile device as a portal to the content and apps available in the online world."
The report, which also noted improvements to the affordability and accessibility of broadband in developing countries, and greater linguistic diversity on the Web, was welcomed by ITU Secretary-General Dr Hamadoun Tour.
"Broadband networks and services are transforming our way of life. The Broadband Commission is committed to ensuring that the benefits of broadband are available to all," he said.