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    The Next Five Years of Explosive Internet Growth, in Seven Graphs

    Written by

    Derek Mead

    Editor-In-Chief

    This whole internet thing doesn't appear to be going away anytime soon, says a new Cisco report looking at growth trends in global traffic. According to the latest edition of the Cisco Visual Networking Index, global internet traffic is expected to increase threefold in the next five years, following fourfold growth in the previous five. At some point in 2015, Cisco predicts that global IP traffic will hit 1.0 zettabytes per year, driven by growth in every region worldwide. The report is a pretty digestible read, but to highlight a few trends, I thought I'd dust off the old Excel chart maker.

    Fixed internet traffic is set to more than double, but it's mobile that's still booming, with Cisco projecting more than 13-fold growth. As we'll see, that growth is being driven by mobile video and likely will continue that way. But can such growth really happen? I ask because, as we all know, mobile data has become more tightly restricted in recent years, and remains super expensive in BRIC countries and others driving traffic growth.

    It's important to note that the methodology counts mobile traffic as that created from mobile devices, not just data from cellular data networks. So presumably a lot of that growth will be the result of our switch to tablets and whatnot, not just flooding cell towers. Still, that's massive growth, which is going to require a huge infrastructure push. Does that mean it's time to blanket the country in wi-fi?

    Regionally, mobile growth is most dramatic in the Asia Pacific region, which should come as no surprise. China's growing middle class, economic growth and Southeast Asia, and the region's current lead in mobile use all combine to produce such stratospheric growth. Still, the projected gap between that region and the rest of the world in 2017 is staggering. Today's a good time to get into telecom, if you can deal with the regulators.

    So we know that mobile is likely to produce a disproportionate increase in global internet traffic, but what will we be using it for? Surprise, surprise, video will continue to dominate the web. According to the report, video traffic will make up 69 percent of all internet traffic in 2017, by which time "it would take an individual over 5 million years to watch the amount of video that will cross global IP networks each month."

    That's a lot of streaming, and the reason is twofold. First, video is naturally incredible popular; nearly half the internet watches YouTube monthly, streaming services are booming, and, yeah, there's porn. But video is also data-heavy, which means its traffic footprint is even larger. It takes a lot more data to watch Netflix in HD than it does to surf Wikipedia. So while video will remain the internet's top traffic driver in terms of pure data, don't let these numbers diminish the value of other tasks.

    It is interesting, however, that Cisco predicts that file sharing won't grow as much as other sectors. The report doesn't explain its reasoning, but I imagine that, considering it notes that much of P2P sharing is for video, Cisco predicts that increased legal streaming options will decrease file-sharing's comparative growth. (The report doesn't dive into whether said file sharing is legal or not, by the way.)

    As with other trends, video traffic growth will grow faster on mobile networks than fixed one. But what's staggering is the difference. Fourfold increase in fixed video traffic is already impressive, but growth in mobile traffic is predicted to be a whopping 25-fold. That's stunning, but I'm a bit skeptical.

    First, as I mentioned before, are data rates. Watching Netflix on a cell phone isn't a cheap proposition with current two GB monthly data plans, and the industry will need to see a big shakeup—one I'm not convinced is going to happen soon, although I'd love to be proved wrong—in order to make more data available per user for less money, considering growth in total users is already straining data networks.

    Of course, this does include people watching video on their tablets over wi-fi and whatnot, and again, I'm curious if that's really going to grow so dramatically. I, for one, hate watching video on mobile devices, but maybe I'm just lame. And I suppose that in high growth regions, like BRIC and developing nations, mobile devices are more accessible than a Netflix-enabled TV—which isn't even available in many nations yet anyway. The future of online video may indeed be distributed, global platforms for smartphones and cheap tablets, which appears to be what Cisco is predicting.

    Still, Netflix and other video to TV services are set to expand, and that's something I can wholeheartedly support. Streaming services have modernized our TVs—which, let's be honest, sitting on the couch is still the best way to view video—far better and more cheaply than the uncompetitive cable market has. And with premium streaming services popping up on the horizon, cord-cutting in favor of internet streaming is only going to become more appealing.

    Lastly, I wanted to share some numbers from the business internet, whose growth Cisco noted would be spurred by video teleconferencing, of all things. But what I found fascinating was the relatively slow growth of business managed IP traffic, which Cisco defines as "all business traffic that is transported over IP but remains within the corporate WAN." This includes both internal communication and network systems.

    Based on the rise of massive logistics and systems solutions developed by the likes of IBM and, yes, Cisco, and utilized by corporations like Amazon, I thought internal network traffic would see more growth. But, as we're talking about traffic, system and data integration may still grow, but just at a lower total rate than data-intensive video.

    So there we have it: a tour through our booming internet via a bunch of colored lines. If anything, this confirms that we are indeed in the age of Big Data, albeit in a slightly different connotation than the term is usually used. Globally, we're now producing and using more data than we ever have before, and that growth isn't slowing down soon.

    @derektmead

    Front page image via LarsZi/Flickr