According to a prediction by computer networking giant Cisco, global data traffic is expected to hit and exceed the zettabyte level in just a few years. (A zettabyte is the equivalent of one trillion gigabytes.) The company’s Visual Networking Index (VNI) is a barometer of IP traffic, and current trends continue, the VNI indicates that by 2016 the amount of data moved about globally will hover around 1.3 zettabytes. The Cisco VNI further projects that the increase alone in data traffic between 2015 and 2016 will almost equal the entire amount of traffic experienced in 2011—330 exabytes. (An exabyte amounts to nearly a billion gigabytes.)
This swell in traffic is due to the increasing reliance that the world’s population is placing on computers and other Internet-connected devices. (Cisco says that by 2016, there will be some 18.9 billion network connections, or an average of about two-and-a-half connections for every man, woman, and child on earth.)
"Each of us increasingly connects to the network via multiple devices in our always-on connected lifestyles," said Suraj Shetty, vice president of product and solutions marketing at Cisco. "Whether by video phone calls, movies on tablets, Web-enabled TVs, or desktop video conferencing, the sum of our actions not only creates demand for zettabytes of bandwidth, but also dramatically changes the network requirements needed to deliver on the expectations of this ‘new normal'."
The Cisco report indicates that the really big driving factor in the demand for bits and bytes is consumer video. The projection is that by 2016, there will be approximately 1.5 billion Internet video users—up from 792 million in 2011. By 2016, Internet-connected television sets should account for more than six percent of global consumer Internet traffic and 18 percent of all Internet video traffic. Increasing demand for high-definition and 3D television is expected to account for part of this growth. Cisco sees a five-fold increase in global video traffic involving HD and 3D television screens.
In contrast, computer Internet usage is expected to drop by 13 percent during the 2011-2016 period. Cisco says that last year, personal computers accounted for 94 percent of consumer Internet traffic; however, by 2016, this figure is expected to fall to 81 percent. The company attributes this PC data traffic falloff to the increasing use of smartphones, tablets and other consumer devices that connect to the Internet.
To keep up with this demand for transporting more and more data, Cisco projects that broadband connections speeds will also be increasing—from about 9 Mbps in 2011 to an anticipated 36 Mbps in 2016.
Cisco noted that although its VNI prognostication tool has sometimes been viewed as conservative, it has generally been "quite accurate" throughout the six years of its existence.