The mobile data traffic explosion – 11.2 exabytes per month used by 2017

Alex Walls
February 7, 2013

Mobile data traffic will increase 13-fold by 2017, reaching 11.2 exabytes per month.

Cisco’s Visual Networking Index: Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update, 2012’2017, found that global mobile data traffic would increase over the four years to reach 11.2 exabytes, or 11,200,000,000,000,000,000 bytes or 11.2 x 10^18, with an annual rate of 134 exabytes.

This was equivalent to 134 times all the IP traffic, fixed and mobile, generated in 2000 or three trillion video clips such as Gangnam Style on YouTube.

The increase of mobile traffic was partly due to strong growth in mobile internet connections including from personal devices, which would exceed the world’s population by 2017 (based on United Nation’s estimates of 7.6 billion people), Cisco said.

Increase driven by more, more, more

The forecast period was expected to see global mobile data traffic outdo fixed data traffic by a factor of three, driven by increased numbers of mobile users , with 5.2 billion users by 2017 compared with 4.3 billion in 2012,   more mobile connections, with more than 10 billion mobile devices or connections were expected by 2017, faster mobile speeds, with average global mobile speeds expected to increase from 0.5Mbps in 2012 to 3.9Mbps in 2017, and more mobile video, with mobile video representing 66% of global mobile data traffic in 2017, up from 51% last year.

Smartphones, laptops and tablets would be kings of global mobile data traffic, driving 94% of it by 2017, the report said.

The Asia-Pacific region would generate the most mobile data traffic, with 5.3 exabytes per month expected for 2017, followed by North America at 2.1 exabytes per month and Western Europe at 1.4 exabytes per month.

To meet the demand for mobile internet and due to address the lack of available mobile spectrum and the expense of new infrastructure, service providers would offload traffic to fixed or WiFi networks, the report said, with 46% of total mobile data traffic offloaded by 2017, or 9.6 exabytes per month, compared with 33% in 2012, or 428 petabytes (428000000000000000 bytes or 428 x 10^15).


The report also studied the impact of 4G services.   In 2012, 4G connections accounted for 14% of mobile data traffic, but would grow to 45%, or 5 exabytes, by 2017.   The average 4G connection in 2012 generate 2.1 gigabytes of mobile data traffic per month, and would grow by 109% by 2017.

By 2017, 2G networks would support 33% of global mobile devices or machine to machine connections (compare with 76% in 2012), 3G would support 57% (compared with 23% in 2012) and 4G would support 10% (compared with 1% in 2012), the report found.Cisco service provider networking marketing vice president Doug Webster said the trend in mobile data traffic growth was the result of a “seemingly insatiable” demand by consumers and business to achieve the benefits gained by connecting people, data and things.With such dramatic adoption, we are rapidly approaching the time when nearly every network experience will be a mobile one and, more often than not, a visual one as well.”With such dramatic adoption, we are rapidly approaching the time when nearly every network experience will be a mobile one and, more often than not, a visual one as well.”The study use independent analyst forecasts including data published by Ovum, Informa Telecoms and Media, Nielsen, and the International Telecommunications Union, and real-world mobile data usage studies, with Cisco’s own estimates of adoption, minutes of use and transmission speeds.   Mobile broadband speed and device computing power are also factored in.

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