Cisco: No Letup in Growth of Mobile Network Traffic

The numbers of connected users and devices will grow, but wearable devices could drive traffic even higher, Cisco says.

The skyrocketing growth of data running over wireless networks will only increase over the next five years as more people use more connected mobile devices to run more video over faster networks, according to Cisco Systems.

In its latest mobile traffic forecast, Cisco officials said worldwide mobile data traffic—which also is being impacted by the growing numbers of machine-to-machine (M2M) connections—will grow almost 11 times over the next four years, hitting an annual rate of 190 exabytes by 2018.

According to Cisco's VNI Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast for 2013-2018, that 190 exabytes annual rate is 190 times more than all Internet Protocol traffic—wired and wireless—generated in 2000, and is equal to 42 trillion images, or about 15 daily images on a multimedia message service or Instagram per person on earth per year. It's also equal to 4 trillion video clips, more than one clip person per day.

The drivers of this traffic are fairly familiar by now. The number of mobile users worldwide continues to grow, from 4.1 billion in 2013 to 4.9 billion by 2018, according to Cisco's figures. Global mobile network speeds continue to increase, with the average increasing from 1.4M bps last year to 2.5M bps in 2018. The number of mobile connections—from personal devices to M2M connections—will hit more than 10 billion by 2018, up from 7 billion in 2013.

Video—from video calls to YouTube clips—also will continue to grow its presence on wireless networks, according to Thomas Barnett, director of thought leadership for Cisco's Service Provider Marketing Group. Video last year accounted for 53 percent of all mobile network traffic; by 2018, it will represent 69 percent.

In 2013, the average global mobile user watched two hours of videos a month. By 2018, that average will be 20 hours, doubling the number of hours of audio usage or video calls.

"With more devices and faster connections, the dominant preferred app type will be video," Barnett told eWEEK.

Mobile traffic also will be impacted by the continued migration of users from standard feature phones to smarter devices, according to Cisco's report. In 2013, 21 percent of the mobile connections were "smart" connections, with devices that have advanced computing and multimedia capabilities and run on at least 3G connectivity. By 2018, that number will jump to 54 percent.

Smartphones, tablets and laptops will account for about 94 percent of global mobile traffic by 2018.

A key trend to keep an eye on will be M2M connections, particularly the wearable computing devices segment, Barnett said. M2M connections—where connected devices speak to one another and are key parts of the growing Internet of things (IoT)—will drive about 5 percent of the worldwide mobile traffic in 2018. While last year M2M connections were about 5 percent of all connected mobile devices in use, that will jump to 20 percent in 2018.

When dealing with wearable devices—from smart headsets to smartwatches to fitness trackers—Cisco took a conservative approach to its projections, Barnett said. In 2013, there were about 21.7 million wearable devices around the world. That will jump to 176.9 million in 2018. However, those numbers could change, and how the wearable device market shakes out over the next few years will impact mobile traffic numbers, he said.

Analysts at Juniper Research last year said that the number of wearable smart devices will grow tenfold, reaching 150 million by 2018.

The wearable device market "is not really big, but these devices could really be a wild card," Barnett said. "The potential is tremendous, but as with all of these things, we'll have to let the consumers decide."