Blog Post

Big Growth for the Internet Ahead, Cisco Says

Cisco Systems, the San Jose, Calif.-based company that makes a living selling plumbing for the Internet (amongst other things), has come out with a prediction: Traffic on the world’s networks will increase (annually) 46 percent from 2007 to 2012, nearly doubling every two years. As a result, there will be an annual bandwidth demand of approximately 522 exabytes2, or more than half a zettabyte. [digg=]

If these kinds of predictions remind you of the wild-and-wooly claims made by folks like MCI and WorldCom in the early days of Internet 1.0, relax –- these numbers aren’t that bad. And I would normally douse them with the cold water of skepticism, except that my dear friend, Andrew Odlyzko, who was the first one to spot the con in WorldCon’s traffic bunkum and has been tracking the growth of Internet traffic, says he expects, overall, an annual growth rate of some 50 percent to 60 percent.

That’s why I’m happy to take Cisco’s study and its newly announced Visual Networking Index (VNI) seriously. Cisco’s data is actually important to note, especially in the light of the recent tiered/metered broadband moves by U.S. carriers and their demagogy about bandwidth consumption.

Anyway, some interesting findings from Cisco include:

  • Global IP traffic will reach 44 exabytes per month in 2012, compared to less than seven per month in 2007. In 2002, global IP traffic was five exabytes, which means that the volume of IP traffic in 2012 will be 100 times as large.
  • Monthly global IP traffic in December 2012 will be 11 exabytes higher than in December 2011, a single-year increase that will exceed the amount by which traffic has increased in the eight years since 2000.
  • Mobile data traffic will roughly double each year from 2008 through 2012. U.S. will surpass Japan in mobile traffic in 2009. (I guess thanks to the iPhone.)
  • In 2012, Internet video traffic alone will be 400 times the traffic carried by the U.S. Internet backbone in 2000. Representative of this trend, Internet video has jumped to 22 percent of the global consumer Internet traffic in 2007 from 12 percent in 2006. Video-on-demand, IPTV, peer-to-peer (P2P) video, and Internet video are forecast to account for nearly 90 percent of all consumer IP traffic in 2012.

My own observation with regards to all these developments is the continuous contribution of new economies -– China, Brazil, Russia, India, Eastern Europe and the new Nordic nations. A growing number of subscribers and their usage of broadband and mobile broadband is slowly pushing up the demand for bandwidth, which has lead to a huge spurt in the traffic on regional and international backbones. New fiber construction to support the growth in traffic also bolsters Cisco’s claims.

China has already passed the U.S. as the world’s largest broadband and mobile market. India is getting there. VeriSign, a Mountain View, Calif.-based company that’s a major player in business domain names, notes that India now has about 41 million Internet users, making it the eight-largest Internet country. Cisco notes that Internet traffic is growing fastest in Latin America, followed by Western Europe and the Asia-Pacific region, and says that’s likely to be the case through 2012. It kind of makes sense — after years and years of U.S. domination, Internet traffic is beginning to act in a more global fashion.

54 Responses to “Big Growth for the Internet Ahead, Cisco Says”

  1. Thank you for writing this article. Question – what impact do you think the recent economic downturn will have on these demand forecasts? From those that I’ve asked, I’ve heard (1) we’ll have to wait and see (2) no-impact (3) increased demand based on the changing environment. Anyone else’s thoughts would be appreciated.

  2. WTF is a “new Nordic nation”?!

    Furthermore, what’s this crap about exabytes? Internet backbone capacity is measured in 10 Gbps wavelenghts. The Internet is not a frigging harddisk!

  3. Demand for bandwidth is set to increase with the increased popularity of the internet and e-commerce. Let’s hope web servers are able to support the enormous load of more than half a zettabyte.

  4. A few comments:
    1. Cisco’s global forecast is entirely in line with Pioneer Consulting’s forecasts although it should be noted that there are significant variances on a regional basis. As Om rightly points out, China is growing fast (faster than the global average) while Africa is seeing around 30% p.a. growth.
    2. Broadband penetration in China expressed as a percentage may look small but given the size of the Chinese population it still makes a signficiant contribution to overall bandwidth demand. However you have to temper forecasts of demand from China for international Internet content with the knowledge that the censor is ever vigilant!
    3. I agree with Om that Internet traffic is “globalising” but I think that this is a very slow evolutionary process. North America remains the source for the great majority of Internet content and I don’t see the balance being tipped in favour of any other region or country in my lifetime.
    4. Broadband growth and storage growth should in theory be proportional but I think that this proportionality will only become clear when the market has matured. At the moment, I think we have only scratched the tip of the iceberg in terms of what the Internet can do for us as citizens and what it can do for corporations. New applications such as You Tube will skew the proportionality metric and so will corporations’ growing realisation that their data networks are vulnerable to natural disaster requiring more sophisticated disaster recovery plans. In our submarine cable space, people are building new cable systems to meet growing demand but they are also building route diversity. For example, TeleGreenland is building a cable which will connect Canada to Iceland via Greenland and Farice, a Faroese / Icelandic company is building a cable from Iceland to Denmark with a view to creating a diverse transatlantic route with data centers in Iceland running on low-cost geothermal power.

  5. @Funny T-Shirts
    Even a small proportion of China’s population still a substantial proportion of the internet population, and those that do have broadband access tend to be a very technology-savvy group.

  6. Pete Steege

    Anyone know of any studies tieing broadband growth to storage growth? I see lots of similarities – wouldn’t be surprised if they’re proportional.

    Makes sense, don’t you think? A certain percent of info passed back and forth gets kept

  7. martin

    hmmm….interesting predictions – but thats all they are predictions – lottery predicitons is what we need… wouldnt take a genius to predict that internet usage will continue to increase in the near future. everyones making money out of the high usage of companies – so many providers now offering isp bonding, even qos bandwidth management to priortise and shape traffic, fibre being deployed in uk areas, internet link load balancers, voip providers, data compressioners, mpls the list is endless…………………………… would these people really exist if internet usage would grow……?

  8. “Traffic on the world’s networks will increase 46 percent from 2007 to 2012, nearly doubling every two years.”

    46 percent over 6 years would be 7.6% per year, pretty modest.

    Om, I think you mean:
    Traffic on the world’s networks will increase 46 percent annually from 2007 to 2012, nearly doubling every two years.

  9. It is the exponential growth predicted by the law of Accelerating Returns.
    Still surprisingly, the capacity of flash cards doubles every year, and so it will do the number of cores in a chip processor, the hard-drives capacity and even the broadband bandwidth we enjoy at home (compare the 256kbps ADSL offered in 2002 with the 10-15Mbps you can get in 2008 and do the maths of growth).

    With HD getting into mainstream in the coming years, and entertainment industry totally digitalized, Cisco predictions could even stay short. I am sure we will find plenty of applications to load the computers of tomorrow: link

  10. 3G is the third generation of mobile phone standards and technology, superseding 2G. It is based on the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) family of standards under the International Mobile Telecommunications programme, IMT-2000. 3G technologies enable network operators to offer users a wider range of more advanced services while achieving greater network capacity through improved spectral efficiency. Services include wide-area wireless voice telephony, video calls, and broadband wireless data, all in a mobile environment. Additional features also include HSPA data transmission capabilities able to deliver speeds up to 14.4Mbit/s on the downlink and 5.8Mbit/s on the uplink. Unlike IEEE 802.11 networks, 3G networks are wide area cellular telephone networks which evolved to incorporate high-speed internet access and video telephony. IEEE 802.11 (common names Wi-Fi or WLAN) networks are short range, high-bandwidth networks primarily developed for data.