Cisco Says the Future of the Web Is Video

Cisco said today that the web will continue its breakneck rate of growth to hit 56 exabytes of data per month by 2013. In 2008, IP traffic accounted for 9 exabytes per month, according to the company’s second annual visual networking index.

Cisco, which stands to profit by selling its communications gear to ISPs and businesses trying to handle the growth in bandwidth, notes that most of the increase in traffic will be related to video — in fact, by 2013, 90 percent of web traffic will be video, it forecast, from services like Hulu to video-on-demand via the local cable provider.

Video comprises a large amount of the total traffic because video files are many times larger than text files and web pages, and because video is slowly moving from being delivered via RF (cable TV) and over the air (broadcast) to being delivered as an IPTV service. People are also carrying around more video-capable devices, such as mobile phones that can capture video and personal camcorders such as the Flip, whose parent company was recently purchased by Cisco. Once that video is captured, people are inclined to share it via the web.

For the most part, the big trends that Cisco first explored in its survey last year are the same, notably video, the continued growth of Internet use in developing countries and the rise of mobile data. However, Cisco also explored how the web is becoming the primary pipeline for information that moves back and forth between business and homes.

Cisco has divided the IP world into active networking, which includes surfing web sites, having VoIP conversations and streaming video, and passive networking, which can include DVR recording while watching other programming, backing up online while web surfing and recording ambient video such as that from online security cameras. Cisco looked at all of this activity and concluded that, thanks to multitasking, by 2013 active networking will add six “network hours” to a day, and passive networking will add another six network hours to each day. (Currently there are 36 hours in a “network day,” according to Cisco; by 2013 there will be 48 hours.)

I’ll forgive Cisco’s awkward creation of a “network day,” and focus on the fact that under its scenario, broadband has become a resource rather than a product. As we use more broadband, consumers and businesses will be less willing to accept arbitrary divisions between broadband product offerings, such as buying a VoIP package and an IM package. Considering Cisco’s examples, we’re likely to see further blurring of the product lines for delivery of professional video content and personal video, such as a day care feed.

If ISPs succeed in implementing tiered pricing schemes, some of that passive networking, especially of the ambient video, will be far more expensive. And if upload speeds don’t improve, video feeds from a home camera and even online backups will be laughably slow. I’m not sure if Cisco is ignoring the potential chilling affect of tiered pricing or sluggish upload speeds, or if it assumes that unlimited broadband is here to stay and that symmetrical connections will proliferate around the world. I’m hoping for the latter.

Here are some other quick bullet points from the latest survey. By 2013:

  • Annual global IP traffic will reach two-thirds of a zettabyte (or 667 exabytes). (A zettabyte is a trillion gigabytes.)
  • IP traffic in North America will reach 13 exabytes a month, slightly ahead of Western Europe, which will reach 12.5 exabytes per month, and behind Asia Pacific (AsiaPac), where IP traffic will reach 21 exabytes per month.
  • Middle East and Africa will grow the fastest, with a compound annual growth rate of 51 percent, reaching 1 exabyte a month.
  • Mobile data traffic will roughly double each year from 2008 levels, to increase a total of 66 times.
  • Almost 64 percent of the world’s mobile data traffic will be video.

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