IP traffic to soar to 3 zettabytes in 2021, video will be 80% of it

Over the next five years (2016 – 2021), global digital transformation will continue to have a significant impact on the demands and requirements of IP networks according to today’s release of the Cisco Visual Networking Index™ (VNI) Complete Forecast. Top-level indicators include the projected increase in Internet users—from 3.3 to 4.6 billion or 58 percent of the global population[1], greater adoption of personal devices and machine-to-machine (M2M) connections—from 17.1 billion to 27.1 billion from 2016- 2021, average broadband speed advances—from 27.5 Mbps to 53.0 Mbps, and more video viewing—from 73 percent to 82 percent of total IP traffic.
Global mobile data traffic grew an estimated 63 percent in 2016. Growth rates varied widely by region, with Middle East and Africa having the highest growth rate (96 percent) followed by Asia Pacific (71 percent), Latin America (66 percent), and Central and Eastern Europe (64 percent). Western Europe grew at an estimated 52 percent, and North America trailed Western Europe at 44 percent growth in 2016 (refer to Figure 1). At the country level, Indonesia, China, and India led global growth at 142, 86, and 76 percent, respectively. These three countries also topped traffic growth in 2015, though in 2016 Indonesia’s traffic growth accelerated (versus 129 percent in 2015), and the traffic growth in China and India slowed relative to 2015 (when growth was 89 percent in India, and 111 percent in China). France, Korea, and Australia also experienced an acceleration in mobile traffic growth in 2016, while most other countries experienced strong but tapering growth compared with previous years.

Global Mobile Data Traffic, 2016 to 2021

Overall mobile data traffic is expected to grow to 49 exabytes per month by 2021, a sevenfold increase over 2016. Mobile data traffic will grow at a CAGR of 47 percent from 2016 to 2021 (Figure 2).

     Cisco Forecasts 49 Exabytes per Month of Mobile Data Traffic by 2021


Source: Cisco VNI Mobile, 2017

Asia Pacific will account for 47 percent of global mobile traffic by 2021, the largest share of traffic by any region by a substantial margin, as shown in Figure 3. North America, which had the second-largest traffic share in 2016, will have only the fourth-largest share by 2021, having been surpassed by Central and Eastern Europe and Middle East and Africa. Middle East and Africa will experience the highest CAGR of 65 percent, increasing 12-fold over the forecast period. Asia Pacific will have the second-highest CAGR of 49 percent, increasing 7-fold over the forecast period (Figure 3).

      Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast by Region


Source: Cisco VNI Mobile, 2017

Global Mobile Devices and Connections Growth


Note:       Figures in parentheses refer to 2016, 2021 device share.

Source: Cisco VNI Mobile, 2017

We see a rapid decline in the share of nonsmartphones from over 40 percent in 2016 (3.3 billion) to 13 percent by 2021 (1.5 billion). Another significant trend is the growth of smartphones (including phablets) from 45-percent share of total devices and connections in 2016 to over 50 percent (53 percent) by 2021.The most noticeable growth is going to occur in M2M connections, followed by tablets. M2M mobile connections will reach more than a quarter (29 percent) of total devices and connections by 2021. The M2M category is going to grow at 34-percent CAGR from 2016 to 2021, and tablets are going to grow at 15-percent CAGR during the same period. Along with the overall growth in the number of mobile devices and connections, there is clearly a visible shift in the device mix. This year we see a relative stabillzation in laptops but a further slowdown in the growth of tablets as new form factors of laptops get adopted and because of the new device category, phablets (included in our smartphone category), is gaining broader adoption.

Global Mobile Traffic Growth by Device Type


Note:       Figures in parentheses refer to 2016, 2021 device share.

Throughout the forecast period, we see that the device mix is getting smarter with an increasing number of devices with higher computing resources, and network connection capabilities that create a growing demand for more capable and intelligent networks. We define smart devices and connections as those having advanced computing and multimedia capabilities with a minimum of 3G connectivity. The share of smart devices and connections as a percentage of the total will increase from 46 percent in 2016 to three-fourths, at 75 percent, by 2021, growing more than twofold during the forecast period

 Regional Share of Smart Devices and Connections (Percent of the Regional Total)




North America



Western Europe



Central and Eastern Europe



Asia Pacific



Latin America



Middle East and Africa



Source: Cisco VNI Mobile, 2017

Globally, smart traffic is going to grow from 92 percent of the total global mobile traffic to 99 percent by 2021. This percentage is significantly higher than the ratio of smart devices and connections (75 percent by 2021), because on average a smart device generates much higher traffic than a nonsmart device. Globally, in 2016, a smart device generated 13 times more traffic than a nonsmart device, and by 2021 a smart device will generate nearly 21 times more traffic.

 Effect of Smart Mobile Devices and Connections Growth on Traffic


Note:       Percentages refer to traffic share.

Source: Cisco VNI Mobile, 2017

With the exponential proliferation of multiple smart devices becoming a reality, the need for each device having its own specific, unique address that it uses to communicate with other devices and the Internet and to define its location is becoming a necessity. IPv4 addresses, the current protocol devices use to communicate on the Internet, have almost exhausted the world over with just a few remaining at the African Internet Registry (AFRINIC). In addition to solving the IPv4 address depletion problem by providing more than enough addresses, the transition to the newer, better IPv6 protocol offers additional advantages where every device will have a globally routable public IP address on the Internet. Hence there is not just a need, but far more a necessity, to move to IPv6 with its 340 undecillion addresses that will make smart devices and the IoT a reality.

The transition to IPv6, which helps connect and manage the proliferation of newer-generation devices that are contributing to mobile network usage and data traffic growth, is well underway. Continuing the Cisco VNI focus on IPv6, the Cisco VNI 2016–2021 Mobile Data Traffic Forecast provides an update on IPv6-capable mobile devices and connections and the potential for IPv6 mobile data traffic.

Focusing on the high-growth mobile-device segments of smartphones and tablets, the forecast projects that globally 93 percent of smartphones and tablets (6.1 billion) will be IPv6-capable by 2021 (up from 68 percent, or 2.6 billion smartphones and tablets in 2016; refer to Figure 9). This estimation is based on OS support of IPv6 (primarily Android and iOS) and the accelerated move to higher-speed mobile networks (3.5G or higher) capable of enabling IPv6. (This forecast is intended as a projection of the number of IPv6-capable mobile devices, not mobile devices with an IPv6 connection actively configured by the Internet service provider [ISP].)

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