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Cisco: 13-fold growth in global mobile Internet traffic

February 6, 2013

According to the Cisco Visual Networking Index Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast for 2012 to 2017, worldwide mobile data traffic will increase 13-fold over the next four years, reaching 11.2 exabytes per month (for an annual run rate of 134 exabytes) by 2017. The expected steady increase in mobile traffic is partly due to continued strong growth in the number of mobile Internet connections (personal devices and machine-to-machine applications), which will exceed the world’s population (United Nations estimates 7.6 billion) by 2017.

The forecast’s annual run rate of 134 exabytes of mobile data traffic is equivalent to:

  • 134 times all 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.

The projected 2012 to 2017 global mobile data traffic increase represents a compound annual growth rate of 66 per cent. The incremental amount of traffic being added to the mobile Internet just between 2016 and 2017 is 3.7 exabytes per month, which is more than four times the estimated size of the entire mobile Internet in 2012 (885 petabytes per month).

During the 2012 to 2017 forecast period, Cisco anticipates that global mobile data traffic will outpace global fixed data traffic by a factor of three. The following major trends are driving global mobile data traffic growth:

  • More mobile users: By 2017, there will be 5.2 billion mobile users (up from 4.3 billion in 2012).
  • More mobile connections: By 2017, there will be more than 10 billion mobile devices/connections, including more than 1.7 billion M2M connections (up from 7 billion total mobile devices and M2M connections in 2012).
  • Faster mobile speeds: Average global mobile network speeds will increase seven-fold from 2012 (0.5 Mbps) to 2017 (3.9 Mbps).
  • More mobile video: By 2017, mobile video will represent 66 per cent of global mobile data traffic (up from 51 per cent in 2012).

In terms of the impact of Mobile Devices/Connections:

  • Smartphones, laptops, and tablets will drive 93 per cent of global mobile data traffic by 2017.
  • M2M traffic (such as GPS systems in cars, asset tracking systems, medical applications, etc.) will represent 5 per cent of 2017 global mobile data traffic.
  • Basic handsets will account for the remaining 2 per cent of global mobile data traffic in 2017.
  • In 2012, 14 per cent of all mobile-connected devices/connections (1 billion) were IPv6-capable.
  • By 2017, 41 per cent of all mobile-connected devices/connections (4.2 billion) will be IPv6-capable.

To address the rise in demand for mobile Internet, and to address the lack of available new mobile spectrum and the expense and complexity of adding new macrocell sites, service providers are increasingly looking to offload traffic to fixed or Wi-Fi networks.


  • In 2012, 33 per cent of total mobile data traffic was offloaded (428 petabytes/month).
  • By 2017, 46 per cent of total mobile data traffic will be offloaded (9.6 exabytes/month).

In terms of mobile data traffic growth rates over the forecast period, the Middle East and Africa region is projected to have the highest regional growth rate. Below is how each of the regions ranks in terms of growth rate by 2017:


  • The Middle East and Africa: 77 per cent CAGR (17.3-fold growth)
  • Asia-Pacific: 76 per cent CAGR (16.9-fold growth)
  • Latin America: 67 per cent CAGR (13.2-fold growth)
  • Central and Eastern Europe: 66 per cent CAGR (12.8-fold growth)
  • North America: 56 per cent CAGR (9.4-fold growth)
  • Western Europe: 50 per cent CAGR (7.6-fold growth)

In terms of mobile data traffic generation, the Asia-Pacific region is projected to generate the most mobile data traffic. This is the regional rank in terms of anticipated mobile data traffic generation by 2017:


  • Asia-Pacific: 5.3 exabytes/month
  • North America: 2.1 exabytes/month
  • Western Europe: 1.4 exabytes/month
  • The Middle East and Africa: 0.9 exabytes/month
  • Central and Eastern Europe: 0.8 exabytes/month
  • Latin America: 0.7 exabytes/month

The average mobile connection is expected to increase seven-fold from 2012 to 2017. Mobile connection speeds are a key factor in supporting mobile data traffic growth.

Cisco notes that many global mobile carriers are deploying 4G technologies to address consumer and business users’ demands for wireless services. In many emerging markets, carriers are creating new mobile networks with 4G solutions. In mature markets, carriers are supplementing or replacing legacy (2G/3G) networks with 4G technologies. The Cisco Mobile VNI study now projects the growth and impact of 4G.


  • In 2012, 2G supported 76 per cent of global mobile devices/M2M connections; 3G supported 23 per cent; and 4G supported 1 per cent.
  • By 2017, 2G networks will support 33 per cent of global mobile devices/M2M connections; 3G networks will support 57 per cent; and 4G networks will support 10 per cent.
  • In 2012, 4G connections accounted for 14 per cent (124 petabytes/month) of mobile data traffic.
  • By 2017, 4G connections will account for 45 per cent (5 exabytes/month) of mobile data traffic.
  • In 2012, the average 4G connection generated 2.1 gigabytes of mobile data traffic per month, which is 19 times the 0.110 gigabytes/month for the average non-4G connection.
  • By 2017, 4G traffic will grow 40-fold, a 109 per cent CAGR.

Doug Webster, Vice President of Service Provider Networking Marketing, Cisco, noted that by 2017, global mobile data traffic would continue its “truly remarkable” growth, increasing 13-fold over the next five years, to reach an amount more than 46 times the total amount of mobile IP traffic just a few years ago in 2010. “With such dramatic adoption, 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,” he concluded.

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