Global mobile data traffic will grow 26 times between 2010 and 2015, to 6.3 exabytes--a billion gigabytes--per month, according to the latest report from Cisco's Visual Networking Index Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast. Additionally, fully two-thirds of all mobile data traffic will be video by 2015, the report predicted. The figures again underscore the challenges operators face as they try to manage the tidal wave of mobile data set to flood their networks.
According to the annual report, which is widely cited every year by carriers and vendors alike as a key benchmark for measuring and predicting data traffic, mobile data traffic grew 159 percent in 2010, roughly 3.3 times faster than fixed Internet traffic. That was higher than the 149 percent growth rate Cisco had predicted.
Doug Webster, Cisco's senior director of worldwide service provider marketing, said four main factors will drive mobile data traffic in 2015. First, there will simply be more mobile devices; Cisco predicts that by 2015 there will be 5.6 billion mobile devices and 1.5 billion separate machine-to-machine nodes--roughly one mobile connection for every person in the world. Additionally, he said, devices will have better computing capabilities and the ability to access high-bandwidth content; average bandwidth speeds are expected to increase 10-fold by 2015; and more people will consume rich content like video.
"The lines between fixed and mobile will converge, and the trends we're seeing on the fixed will be seen on mobile," Webster told FierceWireless.
Thomas Barnett, the senior manager for service provider marketing at Cisco, said carriers are investing billions of dollars in research and development to try to get ahead of the traffic. Barnett said carriers likely will rely on tiered pricing models and femtocells as methods to slow data use and offload it from the wireless network.
AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) became the first U.S. carrier to move to usage-based pricing last year, and Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) has indicated it may follow in the not-too-distant future. "This is business for the providers," Webster said. "They want to have more subscribers. They're not trying to minimize the amount of traffic, but they want to make sure they are compensated appropriately for the cost of delivering it."
One thing to keep in mind, Barnett said, is the unpredictability of the landscape. For instance, Barnett said tablets were not broken out as a separate device category in Cisco's forecast last year, and that the explosion of interest around tablets since the advent of Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPad took the company by surprise.
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