Statistical Data Analysis

Cisco Research: The Zettabyte Era is Here

Networks are an essential part of business, education, government, and home communications. Today’s IP networking trends are being driven by a combination of video, social networking, and advanced collaboration applications, termed ‘visual networking’.

The Cisco Visual Networking Index (VNI) Global IP Traffic and Service Adoption Forecasts is our on-going effort to forecast and analyse the growth and use of IP networks worldwide. The information-driven world we live in today is moving at an unprecedented pace, so much so that this year’s VNI forecasts that 1.6 zettabyes of annual global IP traffic will be generated in 2018 alone, this will be greater than all the IP traffic generated globally from 1984 to 2013, 1.3 zettabyes. To put into context, on a monthly basis that is the equivalent to 940 quadrillion text messages or 4.5 trillion YouTube clips.

With the VNI confirming we have entered the zettabyte era it’s important to examine the drivers behind this new shift. What mechanisms are causing this growth and what does it mean for today’s and tomorrow’s world?

Device and connection shift

The appetite for growing digital portfolios and replacing basic-feature mobile phones with smartphones, and PC/laptops with tablets, is an almost ubiquitous trend and is making the Internet of Everything (IoE) – the networked connection of people, data, processes and things - a reality. This increase in the ownership of devices means there will be 2.7 connections per head globally by 2018, up from 1.7 in 2013. Coupled with this, there will be 7.3 billion M2M connections by 2018. M2M connections will see particularly strong growth with applications such as smart metres, video surveillance, healthcare monitoring and asset tracking, all forecast to undergo mass adoption. The smart car alone will have nearly four M2M connections before the end of this decade.

The effects of this device and connection shift can also be seen from a traffic perspective. At the end of 2013, 33% of all IP traffic originated from non-PC devices, but by 2018 this figure will have nearly doubled to 57%. Although PC-originated traffic will grow at a 10% compound annual growth rate, other devices and connections will have a significantly higher traffic growth rates over the forecast period, including TVs (18%), tablets (74%), smartphones (64%) and M2M modules (84%).

The video impact

By 2018, a million minutes of video will cross the net every second, with IP video accounting for 79% of all IP traffic, up from 66% in 2013. Of particular interest is the change of definition in which video will be consumed. Ultra HD (UHD) video will account for 11% of IP video traffic by 2018, up from 0.1% in 2013, with HD video accounting for 52% up from 36%, and standard definition accounting for 37%, down from 64%.

The VNI also forecasts that by 2018, 21% of the installed flat-panel TV sets will be UHD, up from 0.4% in 2013. While consumer cost may prohibit 4K TV adoption for some, many of the barriers that were associated with 3D TV, such as  special glasses, additional access equipment, limited content, have been removed from this new technology. Consequently by 2018, nearly a quarter of global IP video on demand traffic will come from UHD content.

The role of Wi-Fi

Over the past few years, we’ve seen and reported a significant rise in mobile data traffic. By 2018, wired networks will account for 39% of IP traffic, while Wi-Fi and mobile networks will account for 61% of IP traffic. This is in stark contrast to 2013, when wired networks accounted for the majority of IP traffic (56%), with Wi-Fi making up 41% and mobile networks only 3%.

This forecasted rise in Wi-Fi can in part be attributed to carriers of all kinds developing Wi-Fi strategies to reduce the burden on 3G/4G networks. In order to do so, carriers aim to enable Wi-Fi offloading and also to extend the reach of their content to subscribers beyond their residential environments, by using mechanisms such as public hotspots.

The opportunity beyond the numbers

Our first VNI nine years ago established the zettabyte as a major milestone in the growth of global IP traffic. With the world now firmly in the zettabyte era, the IoE represents a $19 trillion opportunity for businesses globally willing to capitalise on the increasing demand for network mobility and trends such as the emergence of 4K video. By acting now to  work in a more collaborative manner, harness the potential of strategies such as bring-your-own-device and optimise the monetisation of content by making it more securely available to consumers across all devices, organisations stand to take their share of the pie sooner rather than later.


Ian Foddering is Chief Technology Officer at Cisco UKI



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