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Mobile Data Set to Hit 134 Exabytes by 2017

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Look around in any café, street corner or public place nearly anywhere in the world and you will likely see mobile Internet users. Mobile Internet usage, thanks to the widespread use of smartphones, is widely adopted with further growth expected over the next five years.

According to the new Cisco Visual Networking Index Forecast for 2012-2017, there will be 5.2 billion mobile users by 2017, up from 4.3 billion in 2012. All those users will be working on faster networks and using more video than ever before. In 2012, Cisco pegs the average mobile speed at 0.5 Mbps, which will grow to 3.9 Mbps by 2017. An impressive 66 percent of all global mobile traffic will be video by 2017, up from 51 percent in 2012.

In terms of the total amount of global mobile traffic, Cisco is forecasting a compound annual growth rate of 66 percent, hitting 134 exabytes of data usage by 2017.


One of the key enabling technologies behind the growth of mobile Internet traffic over the next five years will be the adoption of 4G. According to Cisco, 4G only accounted for 14 percent of mobile data traffic in 2012. That will grow to 45 percent of all mobile data traffic by 2017.

While 4G data traffic is growing, 4G is still only a small percentage of actual users. In 2012, only 1 percent of all mobile data connections were 4G. By 2017 that number will grow to 10 percent.

Thomas Barnett, director of service provider marketing for Cisco, told Datamation that the impact of 4G on mobile data was a surprise to him, given that 2G and 3G connections are still widely used.

“It took 3G about 7 years to reach a 10 percent connection share,” Barnett said. “It will take 4G about the same amount of time.”


In terms of devices, Cisco forecasts that 93 percent of all global mobile data traffic will come from smartphones, laptops and tables. Machine to Machine traffic from GPS and asset tracking systems will make up 5 percent, while basic phones account for the final 2 percent.

Though tablets are growing in use overall, they are not expected to have a major impact on mobile Internet usage. Cisco defines mobile Internet as 2G/3G/4G connections and is not including Wi-Fi usage in the mix, which is where most tablets are used today.

Cisco analyst Arielle Sumits, told Datamation that in 2012, tablets accounted for only 3.4 percent of mobile Internet data traffic. By 2017, tablets will represent 12 percent of the total traffic.

“Early on with the debut of tablets we were thinking that a higher proportion would be connected to mobile networks,” Sumits said. “It turns out that by 2017, 71 percent will still be Wi-Fi only.”

Going a step further, it’s important to also understand that while mobile traffic overall is growing fast, it does not represent the majority of all Internet traffic.

“Globally, mobile traffic will represent 9 percent of total IP traffic in 2017,” Ariel said. “For 2012, mobile was just 2 percent to total IP traffic, so mobile is still just a fraction of the total traffic.”

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at, the news service of the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

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