Mobile Internet Traffic Continues Skyward

To no one's particular surprise, mobile traffic is set to double in 2012 and then hit 10.8 exabytes a month by 2016. Cisco says that video is now more than half the total data stream and 4G accounts for six percent of traffic.

By Sean Michael Kerner | Posted Feb 14, 2012
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Internet traffic continues to grow year over year, but one segment is growing faster than any other -- mobile. Networking giant Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO) today released a Visual Networking Index (VNI) forecast for Global Mobile Data Traffic, showing a dramatic rise over the next five years.

Cisco, which is pulled from service providers as well as their own research, mobile data traffic will grow to 130 exabytes a year or 10.8 exabytes a month by 2016. That's a 10 followed by 18 zeros. By comparison a gigabyte is 10 followed by 9 zeros.

cisco bar graph

"We're projecting overall growth of mobile traffic for the forecast period of 2011 to 2016 to increase 18 fold," Doug Webster, senior director of SP Marketing at Cisco, told InternetNews.com.

According to Webster, the forecast is also relatively conservative. As a proof point, Webster noted that originally Cisco had forecast mobile traffic for 2011 to grow at 131 percent year-over-year. The actual final number came in at 133 percent. "In general for these studies we err on the conservative side so even though 130 exabytes for 2016 seems like a lot, using history as a guide, it may well likely exceed that."

The Cisco forecast is projecting the most amount of growth to occur in the 2015-2016 timeframe. During that period, Cisco is projecting that the mobile Internet will grow by the total volume of traffic generated in 2012.

A key driver for all that traffic growth is the increase in computing power and bandwidth speed that enable users to actually consume more data. In 2011, Cisco pegged the average smartphone connection speed to be 1.3 Mbps. That figure will grow by a combined annual growth rate of 31 percent, hitting 5.2 Mbps in 2016.

"More people are looking for content that is on-demand and streamed and that is putting a greater burden on the mobile network," Webster said.

The other key driver for traffic growth is the introduction of new devices, most notably tablets onto the mobile network. "Two years ago we didn't have tablets as a category and now tablets are the fastest growing devices of all the devices we track," Webster said. "Traffic from tablets will increase 62 fold during the forecast period."

Moving forward Webster sees yet another new type of device that could potentially drive eve more traffic onto mobile networks.

"With PICO projectors you can stream HD video from a projector embedded in your phone," Webster said. "On that we're anticipating 25 million of those devices in the market by 2016."

In terms of how service providers are able to handle the growing volume of traffic, there is a clear trend toward traffic offloading were mobile traffic is offloaded from a mobile, or data, network to a fixed or Wi-Fi network in an effort to help meet capacity needs. According to Cisco, in 2011 72 petabytes (1016) of data per month were offloaded. That figure is set to grow to 3.1 exabytes per month by 2016.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

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