Worldwide mobile data traffic will increase 13-fold over the next four years, reaching 11.2 exabytes per month by 2017. So says the Cisco Visual Networking Index Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast for 2012 to 2017.
The anticipated steady increase in mobile traffic is partly due to continued strong growth in the number of mobile Internet connections -- personal devices and machine-to-machine applications -- which will exceed the world's population by 2017, according to Cisco.
The forecast's annual run rate of 134 exabytes -- an exabyte is a unit of information or computer storage equal to 1 quintillion bytes -- of mobile data traffic is equivalent to 134 times all the Internet Protocol traffic generated in the year 2000, or 30 trillion images -- 10 images daily from each person on earth for one year -- or 3 trillion video clips.
Every Network Experience Will Be Mobile
"With such dramatic adoption, we are rapidly approaching the time when nearly every network experience will be a mobile one and, more often than not, a visual one as well," Doug Webster, vice president of Service Provider Networking Marketing at Cisco. "This trend is a result of the seemingly insatiable demand by consumers and businesses alike to achieve the benefits gained when connecting people, data and things in an Internet of Everything."
The projected 2012 to 2017 global mobile data traffic increase represents a compound annual growth rate of 66 percent. The incremental amount of traffic expected for the mobile Internet just between 2016 and 2017 is 3.7 exabytes per month, which is more than four times the estimated size of the entire mobile Internet in 2012.
During the 2012 to 2017 forecast period, Cisco anticipates that global mobile data traffic will outpace global fixed data traffic by a factor of three. What's driving that trend? More mobile users, more mobile connections, faster mobile speeds and more mobile video.
By 2017, there will be 5.2 billion mobile users, up from 4.3 billion in 2012. There will be more than 10 billion mobile devices/connections, including more than 1.7 billion mobile-to-mobile connections, up from 7 billion total mobile devices and mobile-to-mobile connections in 2012. And the average global mobile network speeds will increase seven-fold from 2012. Finally, mobile video will represent 66 percent of global mobile data traffic, up from 51 percent in 2012.
Boon for Networking Companies
Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst at ZK Research, told us he was not surprised, and in fact believes Cisco's estimate may be somewhat conservative, based on the evolution of technology such as voice and gesture commands that will make technology easier to use for a broader audience in the years ahead.
But it's not just smartphones, tablets and laptops.
"More and more devices are attached wirelessly," Kerravala said. "I think mobile over the next few years is going to explode as we connect not just people and phones but a number of things to the phone as well."
The question is, can the networking world keep up? Kerravala believes so. When networking companies launched 10 GB Ethernet routers, there were skeptics who wondered why so much bandwidth was necessary. But history shows that no matter how much bandwidth a router offers, consumers find a way to use it. That pushes innovation further.
"If you look at the whole concept of mobile computing, it is a network-centric compute model. So much of the intelligence and app infrastructure that needs to live on servers is being pushed to the cloud or the network," Kerravala said. "So this concept of network-centric computing benefits Cisco probably more than any other vendor. But the whole network ecosystem should get quite a boost out of this."