Global Networking Bandwidth Demand Starts to Slow

New data from Cisco shows continued demand for bandwidth, but it's not growing at the same rapid rate it once did. Meanwhile, video is set to displace P2P file sharing as the Net's most common type of traffic.

By Sean Michael Kerner | Posted Jun 2, 2010
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Internet traffic growth will continue to rise over the next five years, hitting a whopping 767 exabytes by 2014, according to the latest Visual Networking Index (VNI) forecast from Cisco. While that total is staggering, that's still slower than previous growth predictions.

The company is now forecasting that Internet traffic growth will grow fourfold between 2009 and 2014. However, Cisco's (NASDAQ: CSCO) estimate in 2009 had previously predicted 500-percent global Internet traffic growth between 2008 and 2013.

"Percentage-wise, yes, the growth rate is tapering off a bit, though the volume increases continue to be impressive," Doug Webster, senior director of service provider marketing at Cisco, told InternetNews.com. "The delta between 2013 and 2014, for instance, will be larger than total IP traffic in 2008. That said, it is entirely possible that the growth rate will hold steady rather than tapering, since our methodology is conservative in nature. Some of the wildcards that could bolster the growth rate in coming years are: Streaming gaming (e.g. OnLive, Playcast, etc.), Live TV via Internet, HD video communications, and 3DTV."

One of the key drivers over the last several years for Internet traffic growth has been peer-to-peer (P2P) networking and file sharing. Moving forward, P2P -- the Internet's largest single contributor to traffic at present -- will represent an increasingly smaller share as other forms of traffic, most notably video, come to dominate.

According to Cisco's figures, file sharing represented 46 percent of consumer Internet traffic in 2009, with P2P specifically accounting for 39 percent of the total. But Cisco's report notes that P2P will continue to decline as a percentage, even as it increases in real terms at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 16 percent. Meanwhile, video is likely to account for the largest share of traffic, starting in the very near future.

"File sharing will still be the largest application category at the end of 2010, with P2P at 33 percent and other file sharing [at] 7 percent," Webster said. "Internet video will be 39 percent at the end of 2010 ... Internet video traffic will surpass peer-to-peer traffic by the end of the year, marking the first time that P2P is not the largest Internet traffic type."

By 2014, video will represent 91 percent of global consumer IP traffic, Cisco concluded.

The growth in Internet traffic over the next five years will also include an increasing percentage of consumer IP traffic. Cisco reported that in 2009, business IP traffic represented 21 percent of total monthly global IP traffic while consumer IP traffic came in at 79 percent. In 2014, Cisco is forecasting that business IP traffic will fall to only 13 percent and consumer global IP traffic will account for 87 percent.

Internet traffic growth is partially being fuelled by growth in access speeds, which have accelerated over the last decade. Cisco reported that in 2010, 4.4 megabits per second (Mbps) is the average global residential Internet connection download speed. In contrast, back in 2000, consumers were averaging only 127 kilobits per second (Kbps). Moving forward, carrier backbones are set to move to 100 gigabit Ethernet (100 GbE) technology over the course of the next several years, providing still more bandwidth.

The fact that more bandwidth will be available in the coming years play a role in Cisco's forecast.

"The forecast model incorporates increases in end-user broadband speed as a driver of increased bitrates," Webster said. "Globally, we expect average broadband speed to triple between 2009 and 2014, and Internet video bitrates will increase along with it."

Despite all the changes in Internet traffic that Cisco sees in its most recent VNI forecast, at least one factor has stayed the same over the years.

"The top line of the forecast has remained largely consistent from year to year, and the growth reported by operators has closely matched our projections for the most part," Webster said. "The surprises are always in the details. For example, the rapid growth of Web-based file sharing was notable this year. We also had to increase our estimates for online gaming and Internet video communications."

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.

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