It’s not news that IP traffic is growing at exponential rates and will continue to do so for at least the next decade, just as it’s not news that mobile devices and video will play an increasingly significant role in that growth. However, the latest Visual Networking Index report from Cisco Systems illustrates in no uncertain terms that while wireless is destined to dominate the internet - and video is going to be the fastest-growing mobile service driving it - fixed-line broadband will still be carrying the majority of that traffic five years from now, thanks to Wi-Fi offload.
First, the big picture.
According to Cisco’s latest VNI forecast, released at the end of May, global IP traffic has increased eightfold over the past five years, and will increase nearly fourfold over the next five, with annual global IP traffic expected to reach 1.3 zettabytes by 2016 (a zettabyte equal to a trillion gigabytes, if that helps). On a per-month basis, that works out to 110 exabytes per month by 2016 globally, compared to 31 exabytes per month last year (a CAGR of 29%). In Asia Pacific, IP traffic will grow slightly faster at 31% CAGR to reach 40.5 exabytes per month by 2016.
Cisco attributes those figures to a number of industry trends, all of them directly or indirectly related to wireless, from the increasing number of device types (smartphones, tablets, e-readers, home gateways and M2M connections) and growing internet penetration (3.4 billion internet users in 2016, or 45% of the projected global population) to faster average broadband speeds, video and Wi-Fi usage.
Wireless drives fixed traffic
Looking more specifically at mobile data traffic growth, Cisco is projecting mobile data traffic to increase 18-fold - at a CAGR of 78% - to hit 10.8 exabytes per month worldwide by 2016. That’s three times faster growth than fixed IP traffic in the same forecast period.
Interestingly, despite that growth, mobile data traffic will still account for just a fraction of the world’s IP traffic - just 10% in 2016 (albeit compared to just 2% last year). And yet Cisco also says that internet traffic from wireless devices will surpass the volume of traffic from wired devices by 2016.
The latter projection doesn’t contradict the former because Cisco is factoring Wi-Fi into the equation. Cisco expects over half of the world’s internet traffic to come from Wi-Fi connections in 2016, and those Wi-Fi access points will be connected to fixed-line broadband networks, many via home gateways.