Cisco: Global mobile data traffic to increase 18-fold by 2016

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Global mobile data traffic will grow 18 times between 2011 and 2016, to 10.8 exabytes--a billion gigabytes--per month, according to the latest report from Cisco's Visual Networking Index Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast. Additionally, by 2016 video is expected to make up 71 percent of all mobile data traffic, up from the 66 percent by 2015 that Cisco forecasted last year. By 2016 there will be more than 10 billion mobile Internet connections around the world, according to Cisco, with 8 billion of them being personal devices and 2 billion machine-to-machine connections.

cisco vpni

Click here for details from the report.

Cisco's annual report is widely cited every year by carriers and vendors alike as a key benchmark for measuring and predicting data traffic, and also as a data point to justify calls for network investment, traffic management technologies and more spectrum. (AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) just posted that its 2011 mobile data traffic doubled over 2010, continuing a trend stretching back to 2007.) According to Cisco, in 2011 global mobile data traffic more than doubled--2.3 times growth, or 133 percent--and Cisco projects that it will double again in 2012, but at a slightly lower rate of 110 percent growth.

"The evolving device mix and the migration of traffic from the fixed network to the mobile network have the potential to bring the growth rate higher, while tiered pricing and traffic offload may reduce this effect," the company noted in its report. "The current growth rates of mobile data traffic resemble those of the fixed network from 1997 through 2001, when the average yearly growth was 150 percent. In the case of the fixed network, the growth rate remained in the range of 150 percent for 5 years."

Despite the projected increase in the monthly data rates--last year Cisco projected that by 2015 there would be 6.3 exabytes of data per month, and it now thinks by then that the amount will be 6.9 exabytes per month--annual growth rates are estimated to taper off to 90 percent in 2013 and 78 percent in 2014.

Still, Cisco officials said they did not want to give the impression that growth in data traffic is going to slow down any time soon. Indeed, By 2016, 60 percent of mobile users will consume more than 1 GB of data per month, comapred to just 0.5 percent who did so in 2011. Just as with last year, they said the growth is being driven by multiple factors, including continued growth in cloud computing, increased data speeds encouraging more consumption of high-bandwidth content, the overall growth in mobile connections, which dovetails with more users having multiple devices and the overall growth in mobile video traffic.

In January, a survey from network technology firm Arieso found that the top 1 percent of mobile data users worldwide generated 50 percent of all network data traffic. However, according to Cisco, the top 1 percent of mobile data subscribers generated 24 percent of mobile data traffic in 2011, down from 35 percent a year ago. Further, Cisco contends that because the composition of the top 1 percent of users varies from month to month, the more appropriate figure should be the top 5 percent of data users, since those are the subscribers with the potential to move into the top 1 percent.

Interestingly, according to Cisco by 2016 around 25 percent of global mobile users will have at least two devices, which will be a major factor in terms of increased data usage. Numerous operators, including AT&T and Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ), have indicated they may offer family data plans that will allow users to share a bucket of data among multiple devices and family members. 

Thomas Barnett, senior manager of service provider marketing at Cisco, said that such plans would increase stickiness between customers and carriers, and that ultimately would benefit both parties. "That stickiness is what they need," he said, noting that carriers will be able to fine-tune their plans even more as they "become more familiar with customers' needs and we as subscribers become more familiar with our networking choices."

In terms of other ways to manage growing data traffic, offloading will continue to be a popular method. In 2011, 11 percent of global mobile data traffic was offloaded from cellular networks, and by 2016 this will increase to 22 percent. By 2016, 31 percent of all handset and tablet data traffic will be offloaded to Wi-Fi networks, according to Cisco. Additionally, without offload, Cisco reported that the 2011-to-2016 compound annual growth rate of global mobile data traffic would be 84 percent instead of 78 percent.

For more:
- see this release
- see this Cisco white paper

Related Articles:
Study: Top 1% of global users generate half of all mobile data traffic
Ericsson: Mobile data traffic to increase 10X by 2016
Cisco: Mobile video will be 66% of data traffic by 2015
Survey: 83% expect carriers to provide Wi-Fi service as part of bundle