The amount of Internet traffic worldwide will quadruple by 2015, driven by the explosion in the number of connected devices and connected people, the amount of video and faster broadband speeds, according to networking giant Cisco Systems.
In its annual Visual Networking Index Forecast, Cisco officials predicted that global Internet traffic will reach 966 exabytes per year by 2015, with the projected growth between 2014 and 2015 alone being 200 exabytes-more than the total amount of Internet traffic generated worldwide in 2010.
Cisco released the report June 1 during an event at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., that was attended by representatives from the Federal Communications Commission, the European Union and Japanese regulators.
An exabyte equals 1 quintillion bytes, or 10 to the 18th power.
"We're very much entering the zettabyte era," Doug Webster, director of marketing for Cisco Service Provider, said in an interview with eWEEK.
A zettabyte is 1 sextillion bytes, or 1 trillion gigabytes.
A surge in network-connected devices-and the number of Internet users-is helping fuel the rapid increase in Internet traffic, according to Webster. By 2015, there will be almost 15 billion network-connected devices-including smartphones, notebooks, tablets, appliances and other smart machines-and more than two connections for each person on Earth, the Cisco report said. There was about one per person on the planet in 2010.
On average, a U.S. citizen will have seven connected devices by 2015. By 2015, more than 40 percent of the world's population-or almost 3 billion people-will be Internet users.
The types of connected devices will continue to grow, Cisco said. In 2010, PCs generated 97 percent of consumer Internet traffic. However, by 2015, that number will drop to 87 percent, a reflection of the rise of tablets, smartphones, connected TVs and other devices consumers are using to access the Internet.
The key driver in Internet traffic growth will be the use of video, Webster said.
"There is a strong uptick in the use of video," he said. "The network experience is much more visual in nature."
More video means a greater need for bandwidth. Cisco estimates that the number of global online video users will jump from more than 1 billion in 2010 to about 500 million in 2015. In addition, the type of video being put on the Internet will evolve as well. The trend in video is not just driven by short forms like YouTube videos, which usually only run for a few minutes. Longer media is becoming more common, from movies and television shows to live events streamed to devices. Webster pointed to two events-President Obama's inauguration and the World Cup soccer tournament-as examples.
"We're seeing this transition in video loads from short-form to long-form," he said, adding that Cisco expects to see three times as much long-form video than short-form in 2015.
The amount of bandwidth being consumed also will increase, Webster said. In 2010, 35 million connected households consumed 100 gigabits per month, he said. That number will jump to 125 million households by 2015.
In addition, broadband speed will ramp up. The average fixed broadband speed will grow by a factor of four, from 7M bps in 2010 to 28M bps in 2015.
Mobility also will play a role in the growth of traffic, the Cisco study indicated. Global mobile Internet data traffic in 2015 will be 26 times more than in 2010, jumping to 6.3 exabytes per month, or 75 exabytes per year.
It will be important that service providers take note of all these numbers, Webster said. They will need greater capacity and scalability, he said. In addition, given the amount of video that will be involved-Cisco predicts that by 2015, more than 90 percent of all consumer Internet traffic will be video-service providers will need greater intelligence in the network because video is more difficult to deliver and consumers are more sensitive to issues around it, he said.
"The user's tolerance for bad video is much lower than for bad voice," he said.
Service providers also will have to deal with the blurring of the line between fixed and mobile traffic, as consumers increasingly expect to have the same experience on their mobile devices as they do on their PCs or connected televisions.
The same warnings are there for networking vendors, including Cisco, Webster said. They need to build technology that not only increases capacity and scalability, but also is more intelligent.
"You can't just go in and use dumb bandwidth," he said. "It's not just about raw capacity."
The network needs to be able not only to move the Internet traffic, but also to understand what the traffic is (to determine if it's video, for example) and understand the relationship of the data flowing through the network and deliver it to the users in a consistent and problem-free way.