Internet Traffic Growing to 3.3 Zettabytes by 2021

Cisco's annual Visual Networking Index report forecasts a tripling of global IP traffic of the next five years, though the 2016 traffic figure falls short of the initial forecast.

By Sean Michael Kerner | Posted Jun 8, 2017
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Demand for IP networking bandwidth isn't slowing down anytime soon, according to the latest edition of Cisco's Visual Networking Index (VNI) forecast, covering the five year period from 2016–2021.

The biggest number in the VNI forecast is the prediction on the total volume of IP traffic that traverses the internet. In 2016, Cisco's data analysis found that there was 1.2 zettabytes of traffic, which is less that what was initially forecast. Back in 2012, Cisco forecast for the period from 2011-2016 had predicted that internet IP traffic would reach 1.3 zettabytes.

2016 is actually the first year that global IP traffic broke through the zettabyte barrier. Cisco's VNI study last year reported that 2015 global IP traffic came in at 879 exabytes (1,000 exabytes = 1 zettabyte).

Looking forward, Cisco now predicts that global IP traffic will reach an annual run rate of 3.3 zettabytes by 2021.

The largest individual data type that is fueling the continued growth of IP traffic is video, which represented 67 percent of traffic 2016 and is expected to grow to 80 of all IP traffic by 2021. Machine to Machine (M2M) traffic, which also include Internet of Things (IoT) devices are also expected to continue to grow, accounting for 5 percent of all global IP traffic by 2021.

"The Internet of Things (IoT) phenomenon, in which people, processes, data, and things connect to the Internet and each other, is showing tangible growth.," Thomas Barnett Jr, Director, SP Thought Leadership at Cisco, wrote in a blog post. "Globally, M2M connections will grow 2.4-fold, from 5.8 billion in 2016 to 13.7 billion by 2021."

"There will be 1.75 M2M connections for each member of the global population by 2021," he added.

The core nature of WAN traffic is also changing over the next five year as the shift to Software-Defined WAN (SD-WAN) takes hold. Cisco now forecasts that over the next five years SD-WAN traffic will grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 44 percent, dramatically outpacing traditional WAN growth which is forecast at five percent. Though SD-WAN is growing fast, by 2021 it will still only represent 25 percent of all WAN traffic.

"As global digital transformation continues to impact billions of consumers and businesses, the network and security will be essential to support the future of the Internet," Yvette Kanouff, SVP and GM of Service Provider Business at Cisco, said in a statement. "Driving network innovation with service providers will be key for Cisco to support the needs of their customers who want reliable, secure, and high quality connected experiences."

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at EnterpriseNetworkingPlanet and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

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