Cisco Says Mobile Traffic Will Grow Eightfold by 2020

Also by 2020, the number of people with mobile devices worldwide will outpace the number with electricity, running water and cars, says a Cisco study.

mobile traffic

Traffic on the world's already busy mobile networks will become even more congested over the next five years, according to Cisco Systems.

According to the giant networking technology vendor, by 2020, there will be 5.5 billion mobile users—about 70 percent of the expected worldwide population—using 8.5 billion mobile devices. Add in the growth of 4G networks and the increasing presence of video in the data going over networks, and the result is an expected eightfold increase in the amount of mobile data traffic between 2015 and 2020.

The numbers come from Cisco's latest Visual Networking Index Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast, released Feb. 3. Cisco officials have been tracking the growth of mobile device use and mobile traffic for a decade, and the trends for both continue to skyrocket.

"In the United States, just like the rest of the world, mobile data consumption continues to climb, driven by insatiable demand for video, video and more video, coupled with a surge in mobile users and devices, and an expansion of mobile networks to serve the Internet of Things—connected cars, homes, health care and more," Robert Pepper, vice president of global technology policy at Cisco, said in a post on the company blog. "For policymakers, the flood of data traffic has created challenges with radio spectrum, forcing nations to find more efficient ways to allocate this scarce resource."

By 2020, worldwide mobile data traffic will hit 366.8 exabytes, a huge jump from the 44.2 exabytes a year ago. To put it into perspective, that number is 120 times all the global mobile traffic created in 2010 and equivalent to 81 trillion images or 7 trillion video clips—more than 2.5 daily video clips per person for a year. Between 2015 and 2020, worldwide mobile data traffic will grow twice as fast as fixed IP traffic, and by 2020, 75 percent of the traffic will be video.

That same year, there will be 11.6 billion mobile devices and connections—8.5 billion personal devices and 3.1 billion machine-to-machine (M2M) connections. Last year there were 7.9 billion mobile connections. The connections will be smarter—67 percent by 2020, compared with 36 percent last year—and smartphones, tablets and laptops will fuel about 92 percent of the traffic.

Among the personal devices, smartphones will rule, accounting for 81 percent of all mobile traffic by 2020, an increase from the 76 percent in 2015. In fact, the number of mobile phones—which include "phablets"—is growing so fast that by the end of the century, more people (5.4 billion) will have mobile phones than electricity (5.3 billion), running water (3.5 billion) and cars (2.8 billion), Cisco officials said.

M2M connections worldwide will make up 26.4 percent of mobile-connected devices in 2020 and will generate 6.7 percent of all mobile traffic. The number of wearables will grow sixfold during that time, with more than 600 million such devices in use by 2020. There were 97 million in use last year.