Global mobile data traffic is expected to increase 13-fold by 2017, reaching 11.2 exabytes per month, according to Cisco's Visual Networking Index Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast.
The company says the growth in mobile data usage will be driven by the increase in mobile Internet connection, including M2M modules. Cisco cites estimates from the United Nations that predict 7.6 billion mobile Internet connections by 2017.
For some perspective, the forecast’s annual run rate of 134 exabytes of mobile data traffic is equivalent to 134 times all of the Internet Protocol traffic (fixed and mobile) generated in the year 2000, or 30 trillion images (e.g., via MMS or Instagram) – 10 images daily from each person on Earth for one year, or 3 trillion video clips (e.g., YouTube) – one video clip daily from each person on Earth over one year.
Doug Webster, vice president of service provider networking marketing for Cisco, said that we are rapidly approaching the time when nearly every network experience will be a mobile one and, more often than not, a visual one, as well.
"This trend is a result of the seemingly insatiable demand by consumers and businesses alike to achieve the benefits gained when connecting people, data and things in an Internet of Everything,” Webster said.
The projected 2012 to 2017 global mobile data traffic increase represents a compound annual growth rate of 66 percent.
During the 2012 to 2017 forecast period, Cisco anticipates that global mobile data traffic will outpace even global fixed data traffic by a factor of three.
Cisco says that the industry will need to address a lack of spectrum and the expense associated with rolling out new networks if it is to keep with the demand for mobile data.
Just which networks will handle all that traffic will also shift. In 2012, 2G supported 76 percent of global mobile devices/M2M connections, while 3G supported 23 percent and 4G supported 1 percent. By 2017, Cisco expects that 2G networks will support 33 percent of global mobile devices/M2M connections, while 3G networks will support 57 percent and 4G networks will support 10 percent.