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U.S. Data Traffic to Triple Over Five Years


Internet Protocol (IP) traffic in the United States is expected to nearly triple again from 2012 to 2017 continuing a rapid upswing, according to data from the Cisco Visual Networking Index (VNI). Broadband network providers have been investing more than $65 billion annually  in recent years to accommodate ever-growing traffic, and they will have to expand network capacity far into the future as traffic continues to grow.

The Cisco VNI provides country-specific detail online that is not available in the more widely covered forecast. As shown in the chart below, U.S. IP traffic has risen from less than 40 petabytes per month (less than half an exabyte per year) in 2000 to 13.1 exabytes per month (157.7 exabytes per year in 2012), as seen in the chart below. It is expected to rise to 37.1 exabytes per month (445.6 exabytes per year) in 2017. An exabyte is a billion billion bytes of data; a petabyte is a million billion bytes. In simple terms, U.S. IP traffic grew from the equivalent of 100 million DVDs per year in 2000 to 36 billion DVDs per year in 2012, and is projected to grow to 102 billion DVDs per year in 2017.

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The U.S. generates a disproportionately large share of global IP traffic. Despite being home to less than 5 percent of the world’s population, the U.S. generated more than 30 percent of global IP traffic in 2012, and will continue to do so through 2017. Growth trends for total IP traffic in the U.S. are similar to global trends. Like global traffic, U.S. traffic will nearly triple from 2012 to 2017, growing at a compounded annual rate of 23 percent. The table below provides detailed data regarding specific types of traffic.

In the U.S., just as for global IP traffic, video is the largest component and the biggest growth driver. In 2012, video—which includes Internet video, video on demand, online gaming, and a portion of file sharing—accounted for approximately four-fifths of all IP traffic, and that share is projected to inch up over time. Due to high data volumes, the vast majority of video traffic depends on fixed networks, either directly wired to devices or linked via a WiFi wireless extension. Only a very small portion of video traffic goes over mobile cellular networks: 1 percent in 2012, growing to 4 percent in 2017.

The distinction between cellular mobile and WiFi is important because, while both are wireless, WiFi is simply a short-range extension of a fixed network. While country-specific data are not available, Cisco analysis indicates that 95 percent of global “wireless” traffic was WiFi in 2012 and this share will still be 83 percent in 2017. While cellular mobile data is the fastest growing portion of traffic at a 56 percent compounded annual growth rate over five years, it remains a very small portion of total traffic. Mobile data was less than 2 percent of U.S. IP traffic in 2012 and is projected to grow to 5 percent in 2017. Mobile data comprises a smaller portion of U.S. traffic than global traffic, and this difference will grow over time. Global mobile data traffic was 2 percent in 2012 and will grow to 9 percent in 2017. Of course, cellular mobile data depends on fixed networks, too. It requires faster and faster fixed connections for backhaul to carry traffic between cell towers and the broader network.

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Like global traffic, U.S. business traffic share at just less than 15 percent is disproportionately small compared to its economic impact. Business traffic reflects the most economically productive application of IP technology—efficiencies from automation, collaboration, analytics, and business process and supply chain integration. While there is business activity contained within consumer traffic, such as online shopping and customer services inquiries, and while businesses can utilize intelligence derived from consumer technology usage to generate more valuable products and services, the bulk of consumer traffic is video entertainment and social communication. While these activities contribute to economic output through consumption, business usage has a greater economic impact through productivity despite its relatively small size.

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