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World's annual mobile data intake to hit 367 exabytes by 2020

Think we're data hogs now? Just wait five years, says Cisco

By Shaun Nichols in San Francisco


Continued growth of mobile broadband, connected devices and economic development will have data consumption rising by 53 per cent yearly from now to 2020.

So says Cisco, who reports in its annual Visual Networking Index (VNI) that as the next decade dawns, 4G use will finally eclipse 3G and 11.6 billion mobile devices will be passing around data.

The networking giant attributes that bump to a combination of the expected boom in IoT devices and the shift in the developing world from feature phones to smartphones. In total, the world's appetite for data will jump eight-fold, from 44.2 exabytes in 2015 to 366.8 exabytes in 2020.

Cisco said that one of the driving factors for the boom will be a faster-than-expected shift in developing countries – particularly the Asia-Pacific, Central-Eastern Europe, and Middle East-Africa regions – from a reliance on 3G networks to 4G handsets and streaming services. This will cause 4G use to increase 13-fold and make it the dominant wireless broadband connection (over 3G) worldwide in 2020.

In total, Cisco projects that from 2015 to 2020, 4G will go from 14 per cent to 40.5 per cent of all mobile connections, while 3G will grow from 34 per cent to 38.7 per cent and 2G connections will fall from 52 per cent to just 13.5 per cent.

In the US and Western Europe, meanwhile, data consumption looks to be driven not just by increasing appetites for streaming media, but also by the sheer number of IoT connected devices shifting bits around.

As many as 3.1 billion of the predicted 11.6 billion global connections will be machine-to-machine transmissions from wearables and connected appliances without human interaction. This traffic, Cisco says, will become a big contributor in developed markets.

One area that won't see huge growth in coming years is 5G mobile broadband networks. Despite talk of preparations for 5G network rollouts, Cisco believes that carriers will wait for a bigger return on investment before they begin the costly jump from 4G wireless broadband to 5G.

Because of this, Cisco believes 5G traffic loads will not start to truly take off until after 2020. ®

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