In North America, mobile Internet traffic is dominated by YouTube and Facebook. So says Sandvine, a company with an unusually good view of the world’s Internet activity. YouTube accounts for nearly 20 percent of all mobile traffic, and Facebook tops 16 percent.
But the situation elsewhere in the world may surprise you. Take Africa, for instance. In terms of mobile traffic, the continent’s most dominant service is a tool that many in the US haven’t even heard of: WhatsApp.
WhatsApp is the smartphone messaging app Facebook bought for about $22 billion last year, and according to Sandvine—which helps big ISPs monitor and manage all the bits moving across their networks—it accounts for nearly 11 percent of all traffic to and from mobile devices in Africa.
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This shows just how popular WhatsApp is across the continent, in large part because it lets people exchange texts without paying big fees to carriers. And it shows that people are using the service for more than just texting. Like other messaging services, it’s a way of trading photos and videos, too. And this year, the company expanded the service so it can make Internet phone calls, echoing services like Skype.
In a larger sense, this shows that the Internet is evolving differently in the developing world than it has here in the US. Because network and phone technologies aren’t as mature—and because people have less money to spend on tech—low-bandwidth messaging apps like WhatsApp have become a primary gateway onto the Internet as whole.
That’s why Facebook acquired WhatsApp. Mark Zuckerberg and company now have a sizable foothold in areas where the Facebook social network is less viable and, indeed, less popular. This means that, more than ever, the company can grab new Internet users as they come online.
And don’t forget: Facebook is dominant in the US as well. It accounts for more than 16 percent of mobile traffic and more than 2 percent of wire-line traffic. That means it has evolved to embrace the trend towards online video. And it means that the masses are embracing the trend from inside Facebook.