What's a zettabyte? 1,000 exabytes. And one exabyte is 1,000 petabytes. One petabyte is 1,000 terabytes. One terabyte is 1,000 gigabytes.
Still having trouble putting that in perspective? Consider this: an exabyte alone has the capacity to hold over 36,000 years worth of HD quality video. A zettabyte is equivalent to about 250 billion (with a “B”) DVDs.
In 2011, Cisco asked: "Are you ready for the zettabyte era?" Back then, Cisco was predicting that we'd need to add "zettabyte" to our vocabulary in 2015. Thanks primarily to video streaming, they said in 2011, annual global IP traffic would finally reach the zettabyte threshold by the end of 2015-this year.
Fast-forward to today, and Cisco has yet again released another volume of its Visual Networking Index (VNI), an on-going initiative to track and forecast the impact of visual networking applications. This report follows up on the claims made in 2011, and forecasts an exciting future for IP traffic around the globe through the next several years.
Where We Are Today
As we just mentioned, in 2011, Cisco predicted that 2015 would be the dawn of the zettabyte era—our first dive into previously uncharted territory.
Unfortunately, we’re not quite there yet. Although their traffic prediction was impressively close, this year’s VNI pushes back the zettabyte mile marker to 2016. Though global IP traffic has indeed increased significantly in the past five years, we’re still not quite past the entrance to the zettabyte era. Cisco now predicts that the zettabyte era will begin in 2016, when global IP traffic will reach 1.1 zettabytes per year or 88.4 exabytes per month. From there, it’s only expected to increase.
Total traffic volume alone isn’t the only thing of note from this year’s report, however. Metro-only traffic (traffic that traverses only the metro network and bypasses long-haul traffic links) surpassed long-haul traffic in 2014. Last year, metro traffic was 2.1 times greater than long-haul traffic, with a total of around 60 exabytes per month. Given that Cisco believes video traffic will account for 80% of all consumer Internet traffic by 2019, this isn’t surprising. Video and other media-rich content is increasingly being locally cached by CDNs to provide high-quality service, making local traffic a much bigger part of the equation.
Changes and innovations in user behavior, technology, and connectivity have transformed global Internet usage. They have also positioned global IP traffic for incredible growth over the next 4 years and beyond.
Where We’re Headed
Cisco’s assessment of the current state of global IP traffic is certainly interesting, but what’s most exciting are Cisco’s predictions for the future. Here are several key highlights directly from the executive summary of the Cisco VNI that speak volumes about what’s in store for us after we enter the zettabyte era:
Annual global IP traffic will reach 2 zettabytes per year by 2019. By 2019, global IP traffic will reach 2.0 zettabytes per year, or 168 exabytes per month.
Global IP traffic will increase threefold over the next five years. Overall, IP traffic will grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 23 percent from 2014 to 2019.
Metro traffic will account for 66 percent of total IP traffic by 2019. Metro traffic will grow more than twice as fast as long-haul traffic from 2014 to 2019. The higher growth in metro networks is due in part to the increasingly significant role of content delivery networks (CDNs), which bypass long‑haul links and deliver traffic to metro and regional backbones.
Content delivery networks (CDNs) will carry nearly two-thirds of Internet traffic by 2019. Sixty-two percent of all Internet traffic will cross CDNs by 2019 globally, up from 39 percent in 2014.
Two-thirds of all IP traffic will originate with non-PC devices by 2019. In 2014, only 40 percent of total IP traffic originated with non-PC devices, but by 2019 the non-PC share of total IP traffic will grow to 67 percent. PC-originated traffic will grow at a CAGR of 9 percent, and TVs, tablets, smartphones, and machine-to-machine (M2M) modules will have traffic growth rates of 17 percent, 65 percent, 62 percent, and 71 percent respectively.
Traffic from wireless and mobile devices will exceed traffic from wired devices by 2016. By 2016, wired devices will account for 47 percent of IP traffic, and Wi-Fi and mobile devices will account for 53 percent of IP traffic. In 2014, wired devices accounted for the majority of IP traffic, at 54 percent.
Global Internet traffic in 2019 will be equivalent to 66 times the volume of the entire global Internet in 2005. Globally, Internet traffic will reach 37 gigabytes (GB) per capita by 2019, up from 15.5 GB per capita in 2014.
The number of devices connected to IP networks will be more than three times the global population by 2019. There will be more than three networked devices per capita by 2019, up from nearly two networked devices per capita in 2014. Accelerated in part by the increase in devices and the capabilities of those devices, IP traffic per capita will reach 22 GB per capita by 2019, up from 8 GB per capita in 2014.
Broadband speeds will more than double by 2019. By 2019, global fixed broadband speeds will reach 42.5 Mbps, up from 20.3 Mbps in 2014.
Cisco’s VNI: Forecast and Methodology, 2014-2019 covers everything above (and more) in detail. In general, however, the trend is clear: in the zettabyte era, service providers and others will need to be ready to accommodate on-going unprecedented growth.
The Face Behind the Traffic
The growth predicted by Cisco in its recent Visual Networking Index is awe-inspiring. Consider again the prediction stated above: global Internet traffic in 2019 will be equivalent to 66 times the volume of the entire global Internet in 2005. That is tremendous growth.
But this growth won't happen in a vacuum. Service providers, networks, CDNs, data centre service providers, and more will all have to work together to accommodate this tremendous growth.
This is exactly why the future of the Internet depends on interconnection. A 2014 report from Arthur D Little and Liberty Global [PDF] noted that "the extent to which the IP Interconnection sector is able to innovate itself defines the scope of evolution of the Internet as a platform for future applications." Without the plumbing for all this global IP traffic to flow through, it won’t be able to continue to grow as Cisco outlines in their VNI.
Can service providers and others adapt and innovate in the face of tremendous growth? Absolutely. In many ways, they already are. While it won't be easy, adapting to this growth is absolutely necessary. It also bodes well for our industry, which enables growth of global connections, CDNs, and more.
We can only hope that four years from now, Cisco's predictions from 2015 will look as promising as they look now. If the accuracy of their predictions in 2011 are any indication, we'll be writing a blog in 2019 about what it took for global IP traffic to pass 2 zettabytes a year.
For more information about everything we discussed today, see “The Zettabyte Era—Trends and Analysis” from Cisco. For all other questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out via the contact page of our site, or by Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.