It's time to start talking about IP traffic in terms of zettabytes, according to Cisco, which is projecting annual global IP traffic to be 1.3 zettabytes -- the equivalent of a trillion gigabytes -- by 2016.
That was one of the key data points gleaned from Cisco's Visual Networking Index Forecast (2011-2016), an annual report that looks at global IP traffic and how it's consumed and distributed. Cisco released initial results of the VNI forecast Wednesday.
With global IP traffic at an expected 1.3 zettabytes a year within the next four years, Cisco also projects that the increase in traffic from 2015 to 2016 alone will be 330 exabytes, which isn't far off the 369 exabytes in traffic calculated for all of 2011.
"We're breaking the zettabyte barrier soon," said Thomas Barnett, senior manager, service provider marketing at Cisco. "While the growth rates aren't always going to be as astounding as they have been, what is still striking is the actual volume, which is huge."
One way to think about it, Barnett explained, is to consider that the amount of IP traffic generated from 1984 to the end of 2012 will be surpassed by the amount of global traffic in 2016 alone.
The drivers for that mushrooming traffic are the usual suspects: an increase in the number of IP-accessible devices, faster broadband speeds, more overall users of the Internet (led by the Asia Pacific region) and a whole heck of a lot more video.
By 2016, Cisco projects, 1.2 million video minutes will travel the internet every second -- the equivalent of 833 days. There are expected to be 1.5 billion internet video users by 2016, up from 792 million now.
The growth of wi-fi will also be a big contributor, Cisco says, with over half of the world's internet traffic expected to come from wi-fi connections by 2016. There will also be an expected five billion public wi-fi hotspots by that time.
"Mobility really is key," Barnett said. "That's the networking choice from an access perspective."
Projections by region
By region, Asia Pacific is expected to generate 40.5 exabytes of IP traffic a month by 2016 -- the most of all geographies. North America is expected to hit about 27.5 exabytes per month.
The fastest growing IP traffic regions, however, are the Middle East and Africa, with a 58 percent CAGR, and Latin America, with a 49 percent CAGR.
By country, India will have the highest IP traffic growth rate from 2011 to 2016, Cisco said, with a CAGR of 62 percent. The United States and China will be the highest traffic-generating countries by 2016, at 22 exabytes per month and 12 exabytes per month, respectively.
Among other interesting data points in the VNI: there will be 8 billion IPv6-capable fixed and mobile devices by 2016, up from 1 billion in 2011.
Advanced video traffic, which includes 3D and HD TVs, is expected to increase five times between 2011 and 2016.
Business IP video conferencing will grow six fold from 2011 to 2016, growing more than twice as fast as overall business IP traffic.
Mobile consumers are forecast to grow from 3.7 billion in 2011 to 4.5 billion in 2016.
Consumer SMS will be the most highly-penetrated consumer mobile service, from 271 million users in 2011 to an expected 1.6 billion in 2016.
Business mobile location based services will be the fastest-growing business mobile services, from 27 million users in 2011 to an expected 158 million in 2016.
The best way for solution providers to think about all these changes, Barnett said, is in terms of not only network upgrades to support all that IP traffic but also network intelligence.
"There can't just be a bigger pipe -- the network has to be more intelligent to build a better experience," he said. "Differentiation is going to be the key: How can service providers innovate on the network and how can they partner with others to do that?"