Cisco: More Devices, Users Fueling Rapid Growth of Internet Traffic

Faster networks and more video also are factoring in the trend that will see traffic quadruple by 2016, Cisco says in its new Visual Networking Index Forecast.

Internet traffic, fueled in large part by the rapid rise in the number of mobile devices and Internet users, will quadruple by 2016, according to networking giant Cisco Systems.

In the latest release of its Visual Networking Index Forecast, which runs from 2011 to 2016, Cisco officials are predicting that in 2016 alone, Internet traffic will be 1.3 zettabytes, eclipsing the 1.2 zettabytes of data that ran across global networks in all the €œInternet years€ of 1984 to 2012. A zettabyte is 1 followed by 21 zeros; according to Cisco, 1.3ZB is 10 times more than the 121 exabytes of IP traffic created in 2008, or is equal to 38 million DVDs running on networks every hour.

The expected increase in global Internet traffic between 2015 and 2016 itself will be more than 330EB, which is almost equal to the total amount of traffic€”369EB€”generated in 2011.

The numbers this year continue the trend that Cisco officials have been warning about since first compiling the index in 2007. And while the numbers this year are new, the drivers behind them echo what Cisco officials found last year: More people are connecting to the Internet with more devices and demanding persistent connections, and video is becoming an increasing presence in the traffic that is running through faster and faster networks.

€œWe want to stay connected, need to be connected, both consumers and businesses,€ Thomas Barnett, manager of service provider market at Cisco, told eWEEK.

According to Cisco€™s numbers, by 2016, there will be almost 18.9 billion network connections, or about 2.5 connections per each person on Earth. In 2011, there were 10.3 billion connections. And those connections aren€™t just coming from tablets, mobile phones, laptops or other smart devices, but also from machine-to-machine (M2M) connections€”smart appliances for example, Barnett said.

Within four years, PCs will still continue to generate the lion€™s share of Internet traffic, but that share will continue dropping, Cisco said. In 2011, PCs generated 94 percent of the traffic; by 2016, that will fall to 81 percent, with other devices like smartphones and tablets increasingly generating more.

Internet-connected TVs also will generate more traffic, from 4 percent of consumer Internet traffic worldwide in 2011 to more than 6 percent in 2016.

In addition, by 2016, there will be 3.4 billion Internet users, or about 45 percent of the world€™s population. In 2011, the average Internet user generated 11.5G bit of traffic per month. By 2016, that number will jump to 32.2G bit a month. The number of business Internet users will grow from 1.6 billion in 2011 to 2.3 billion in 2016.

Cisco, which over the past few years has been putting a lot of money and effort into building up its video capabilities, found that video will continue to become a larger presence in the traffic running over networks. By 2016, 1.2 million video minutes€”or more than two years worth of time€”will travel on the Internet every second. Desktop video conferencing will be the fastest-growing service, jumping from 36.4 million users in 2011 to 218.9 million users in 2016.

And the Internet will be faster, the company said. The average broadband speed will be almost four times faster by 2016, growing from 9M bps in 2011 to 34M bps. That speed will greatly improve the user experience, the company said. By 2016, 74 percent of all broadband connections will be 5M bps; at that speed, it takes 41 minutes to download a high-definition movie. However, at the same time, 3 percent of connections in 2016 will be at 100M bps, which will mean the same download will take 2 seconds.

WiFi also will grow in importance, with more than half the world€™s Internet traffic coming from WiFi connections. Wireless carriers, worried about what they say is a bandwidth crunch coming on their broadband networks as the demand for Internet connectivity grows, are looking to WiFi networks as ways to offload some of that traffic and ease the burden on their networks.