This document is part of the Cisco® Visual Networking Index (VNI), an ongoing initiative to track and forecast the impact of visual networking applications. The document presents some of the main findings of Cisco's global IP traffic forecast and explores the implications of IP traffic growth for service providers. For a more detailed look at the forecast and the methodology behind it, please see Cisco VNI: Forecast and Methodology, 2011-2016.
Annual global IP traffic will pass the zettabyte threshold by the end of 2016. In 2016, global IP traffic will reach 1.3 zettabytes per year or 110.3 exabytes per month.
Global IP traffic has increased eightfold over the past 5 years, and will increase nearly fourfold over the next 5 years. Overall, IP traffic will grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 29 percent from 2011 to 2016.
In 2016, the gigabyte equivalent of all movies ever made will cross the global Internet every 3 minutes. The global Internet networks will deliver 12.5 petabytes every 5 minutes in 2016.
The number of devices connected to IP networks will be nearly three times as high as the global population in 2016. There will be nearly three networked devices per capita in 2016, up from one networked device per capita in 2011. Driven in part by the increase in devices and the capabilities of those devices, IP traffic per capita will reach 15 gigabytes per capita in 2016, up from 4 gigabytes per capita in 2011.
A growing amount of Internet traffic is originating with non-PC devices. In 2011, only 6 percent of consumer Internet traffic originated with non-PC devices, but by 2016 the non-PC share of consumer Internet traffic will grow to 19 percent. PC-originated traffic will grow at a CAGR of 26 percent, while TVs, tablets, smartphones, and machine-to-machine (M2M) modules will have traffic growth rates of 77 percent, 129 percent, 119 percent, and 86 percent, respectively.
Traffic from wireless devices will exceed traffic from wired devices by 2016. In 2016, wired devices will account for 39 percent of IP traffic, while Wi-Fi and mobile devices will account for 61 percent of IP traffic. In 2011, wired devices accounted for the majority of IP traffic at 55 percent.
Busy-hour traffic is growing more rapidly than average traffic. Busy-hour traffic will increase nearly fivefold by 2016, while average traffic will increase nearly fourfold. Busy-hour Internet traffic will reach 720 Tbps in 2016, the equivalent of 600 million people streaming a high-definition video continuously.
Global Internet Video Highlights
It would take over 6 million years to watch the amount of video that will cross global IP networks each month in 2016. Every second, 1.2 million minutes of video content will cross the network in 2016.
Globally, Internet video traffic will be 55 percent of all consumer Internet traffic in 2016, up from 51 percent in 2011. This does not include the amount of video exchanged through P2P file sharing. The sum of all forms of video (TV, video on demand [VoD], Internet, and P2P) will continue to be approximately 86 percent of global consumer traffic by 2016.
Internet video to TV doubled in 2011. Internet video to TV will continue to grow at a rapid pace, increasing six fold by 2016. Internet video to TV will be 12 percent of consumer Internet video traffic in 2016, up from 8 percent in 2011.
Video-on-demand traffic will triple by 2016. The amount of VoD traffic in 2016 will be equivalent to 4 billion DVDs per month.
High-definition video-on-demand surpassed standard-definition VoD by the end of 2011. By 2016, high-definition Internet video will comprise 79 percent of VoD.
Global Mobile Highlights
Globally, mobile data traffic will increase 18-fold between 2011 and 2016. Mobile data traffic will grow at a CAGR of 78 percent between 2011 and 2016, reaching 10.8 exabytes per month by 2016.
Global mobile data traffic will grow three times faster than fixed IP traffic from 2011 to 2016. Global mobile data traffic was 2 percent of total IP traffic in 2011, and will be 10 percent of total IP traffic in 2016.
IP traffic is growing fastest in the Middle East and Africa, followed closely by Latin America. Traffic in the Middle East and Africa will grow at a CAGR of 57 percent between 2011 and 2016.
Summary of regional growth rates:
• IP traffic in North America will reach 28 exabytes per month by 2016 at a CAGR of 22 percent.
• IP traffic in Western Europe will reach 24 exabytes per month by 2016 at a CAGR of 27 percent.
• IP traffic in Asia Pacific will reach 41 exabytes per month by 2016 at a CAGR of 31 percent.
• IP traffic in Latin America will reach 7.6 exabytes per month by 2016 at a CAGR of 49 percent.
• IP traffic in Central and Eastern Europe will reach 6 exabytes per month by 2016 at a CAGR of 39 percent.
• IP traffic in the Middle East and Africa will reach 3.7 exabytes per month by 2016 at a CAGR of 57 percent.
Business IP traffic will grow at a CAGR of 22 percent from 2011 to 2016. Increased adoption of advanced video communications in the enterprise segment will cause business IP traffic to grow by a factor of 3 between 2011 and 2016.
Business Internet traffic will grow at a faster pace than IP WAN. IP WAN will grow at a CAGR of 18 percent, compared to a CAGR of 23 percent for fixed business Internet and 66 percent for mobile business Internet.
Business videoconferencing will grow six fold over the forecast period. Business videoconferencing traffic is growing significantly faster than overall business IP traffic, at a CAGR of 48 percent from 2011-2016.
Web-based videoconferencing reached 56 percent of total business videoconferencing traffic in 2011. Web-based videoconferencing will grow faster than average business videoconferencing, at a CAGR of 45 percent.
Business IP traffic will grow fastest in the Middle East and Africa. Business IP traffic in the Middle East and Africa will grow at a CAGR of 33 percent, a faster pace than the global average of 20 percent. In volume, North America will have the largest amount of business IP traffic in 2016 at 3.3 exabytes per month. Western Europe will be a close second to North America at 2.9 exabytes per month.
The current Visual Networking Index forecast projects global IP traffic to nearly quadruple from 2011 to 2016. See Appendix A for a detailed summary. As Figure 1 shows, overall IP traffic is expected to grow to 110 exabytes per month by 2016, up from 31 exabytes per month in 2011, a CAGR of 29 percent.
Figure 1. Cisco VNI Forecasts 110 Exabytes per Month of IP Traffic in 2016
For more details on Cisco's forecasting methodology, see the paper entitled "Cisco VNI: Forecast and Methodology, 2011-2016."
Aggregate IP traffic volumes have gone far beyond the realm of personal experience. To appreciate the magnitude of these numbers, it helps to put them in more familiar terms.
• In 2016, the gigabyte equivalent of all movies ever made will cross global IP networks every 3 minutes.
• In 2016, the gigabyte equivalent of all movies ever made will cross the global Internet every 4 minutes.
• Globally, IP traffic will reach 277 Tbps in 2016, the equivalent of 230 million people streaming Internet high-definition video simultaneously, all day, every day.
• Global IP traffic in 2016 will be equivalent to 331 billion DVDs per year, 28 billion DVDs per month, or 38 million DVDs per hour.
Globally, IP traffic will reach 15 gigabytes per capita in 2016, up from 4 gigabytes per capita in 2011, and Internet traffic will reach 12 gigabytes per capita in 2016, up from 3 gigabytes per capita in 2011. Not long ago, in 2008, per capita Internet traffic was 1 gigabyte per month. In 2000, per capita Internet traffic was 10 megabytes per month. Figure 2 provides a view of the historical benchmarks for per capita Internet traffic.
Figure 2. The VNI Forecast Within Historical Context
Most IP traffic growth results from growth in Internet traffic, compared to managed IP traffic. Of the 110 total exabytes in 2016, 81 are due to fixed Internet and 10.8 are due to mobile Internet. Fixed and mobile Internet traffic, in turn, are propelled by video. The sections that follow explore the trends contributing to the continued growth of global IP traffic.
Trend 1: Internet Video Will Drive Most Consumer Internet Traffic Through 2016
The sum of all forms of IP video (Internet video, IP VoD, video files exchanged through file sharing, video-streamed gaming, and videoconferencing) will ultimately reach 86 percent of total IP traffic. Taking a more narrow definition of Internet video that excludes file sharing and gaming, Internet video will account for 55 percent of consumer Internet traffic in 2015 (Figure 3).
Figure 3. Global Consumer Internet Traffic
Internet video will officially reach the halfway mark of consumer Internet traffic by the end of 2012. The implications of video growth would be difficult to overstate. With video growth, Internet traffic is evolving from a relatively steady stream of traffic (characteristic of P2P1) to a more dynamic traffic pattern.
Because video has a higher peak-to-average ratio than data or file sharing, and because video is gaining traffic share, peak Internet traffic will grow faster than average traffic. With video, the Internet now has a much busier busy hour. The growing gap between peak and average traffic is amplified further by the changing composition of Internet video. As shown in Figure 4, real-time video such as live video, ambient video, and video calling are taking an ever greater share of video traffic. Real-time video has a peak-to-average ratio that is higher than on-demand video.
Busy-hour Internet traffic will nearly quintuple between 2011 and 2016, while average Internet traffic will nearly quadruple. Busy-hour Internet use will grow at a CAGR of 36 percent, compared to 29 percent for average Internet traffic. Average Internet traffic will be the equivalent of 277 million people streaming Internet high-definition video simultaneously and continuously throughout the month, while busy-hour traffic will be the equivalent of 600 million people streaming Internet high-definition video simultaneously and continuously throughout the hour.
Figure 4. Global Consumer Internet Video Traffic
With the exception of short-form video and video calling, most forms of Internet video do not have a large upstream component.
As a result, traffic is not becoming more symmetric as many expected when user-generated content first became popular. The emergence of subscribers as content producers is an extremely important social, economic, and cultural phenomenon, but subscribers still consume far more video than they produce. Upstream traffic has been flat as a percentage for several years, according to data from the participants in the Cisco VNI Usage program.
It appears likely that residential Internet traffic will remain asymmetric for the next few years. However, there are a number of scenarios that could result in a move toward increased symmetry.
• Content providers and distributors could adopt P2P as a distribution mechanism. There has been a strong case for P2P as a low-cost content delivery system for many years, yet most content providers and distributors have opted for direct distribution, with the exception of applications such as PPStream and PPLive in China, which offer live video streaming through P2P, and have had great success. If content providers in other regions follow suit, traffic could rapidly become highly symmetric.
• High-end video communications could accelerate, requiring symmetric bandwidth. PC-to-PC video calling is gaining momentum, and the nascent mobile video calling market appears to have promise. If high-end video calling becomes popular, this will move traffic toward symmetry again.
Generally, if service providers provide ample upstream bandwidth, applications that use upstream capacity will begin to appear.
Trend 2: Nearly One-Third of IP Traffic Will Come from TVs, Handsets, and Other Non-PC Devices by 2016
At the end of 2011, 78 percent of IP traffic and 94 percent of consumer Internet traffic originated from PCs. By 2016, 31 percent of IP traffic and 19 percent of consumer Internet traffic will originate from non-PC devices (Figure 5). As in the case of mobile networks, video devices can have a multiplier effect on traffic. An Internet-enabled high-definition television that draws 30 minutes of content per day from the Internet would generate as much Internet traffic as an entire household today.
Figure 5. Global IP Traffic by Device Type
Trend 3: Internet Traffic from Wireless Devices Will Surpass the Volume of Traffic from Wired Devices by 2016
The rapid growth of mobile data traffic has been widely recognized and reported. The trend towards mobility carries over into the realm of fixed networks as well, in that an increasing portion of traffic will originate from portable or mobile devices. Figure 6 shows the growth of wireless and mobile traffic in relation to traffic from wired devices.
Figure 6. Global IP Traffic, Wired and Wireless
The increasing use of portable devices, even those not currently providing mobile access, creates even greater potential for traffic migration from fixed to mobile devices. Portable devices also increase overall traffic by increasing the contact time with the network.
Trend 4: Fixed Broadband Speeds Will Quadruple by 2016
Broadband speed is a crucial promoter of IP traffic. Broadband speed improvement results in increased consumption and use of high-bandwidth content and applications. The global average broadband speed continues to grow and will quadruple from 2011 to 2016, from 9.1 Mbps to 34.5 Mbps. Consider how long it takes to download a high-definition movie at these speeds: at 5 Mbps, it would take 41 minutes to download the movie; at 10 Mbps, it would take 20 minutes; but at 100 Mbps, it would take only 2 minutes. High-bandwidth speeds will be an essential support for consumer cloud storage, making the download of large multimedia files as fast as a transfer from a hard drive. Table 1 shows the projected broadband speeds from 2011 to 2016.
Table 1. Broadband Speeds, 2011-2016
Broadband Speed by Region (Mbps)
Central and Eastern Europe
Middle East and Africa
Source: Cisco VNI, 2012
Trend 5: There will be 19 Billion Networked Devices and 40 Percent Will Be IPv6-Capable by 2016
Each new device increases the potential amount of time and number of ways a user can connect to the network. Tablets are being used as secondary personal television screens, both in the home and on the move. TVs, set-top boxes, and other consumer electronics are increasingly web-enabled. Specialized devices such as Internet-enabled digital picture frames can draw content directly from the network. In some parts of the world, mobile devices are used as mobile hotspots, allowing any number of devices to connect to the network.
The cumulative effect of new devices and the diversification of network devices is to increase network usage and traffic, but also to increase the complexity of network operations and business models. Service providers are faced with the task of managing, authenticating, securing, and delivering content to a bewildering array of devices. One requirement for future device growth is the implementation of IPv6. To gauge the progress and prevalence of IPv6, Cisco has developed a methodology for estimating and forecasting the number of IPv6-capable devices. The results and implications of this forecast are explored in the following section.
IPv6 Device Forecast, 2011-2016
Industry leaders are moving forward on plans to realize the benefits of deploying IPv6, as signified by World IPv6 Launch on June 6, 2012, when service providers, equipment manufacturers, and content providers around the globe will enable IPv6 on their products and services on a continuous basis.
As part of Cisco's ongoing effort to gauge the leading indicators of IPv6 transformation, the Cisco VNI forecast projects that globally 40.8 percent, or 3.57 billion, fixed devices will be IPv6-capable by 2016, increasing from 9.9 percent, or 372 million in 2011, a 57.2 percent CAGR (Figure 7).
Fixed devices in the forecast are aligned with the fixed devices included in the Cisco VNI Forecast 2011-2016 Update. To assess fixed-device IPv6 capability, the analysis considers factors including operating system compatibility with IPv6, IPv6 product readiness and, as applicable, the IPv6 capability of residential customer premises equipment (CPE) or enterprise routers. This forecast is a projection of the number of IPv6-capable fixed devices, not fixed devices with an IPv6 connection configured by the network operator, or IPv6 fixed data traffic.
When considered with the IPv6-capable Mobile Device Forecast released February 2012 as part of the Cisco Mobile VNI Forecast 2011-2016, the global forecast for total IPv6-capable fixed and mobile devices in 2016 is 7.6 billion, increasing from 1.03 billion in 2011, or 10.1 percent of total fixed mobile devices, for a combined CAGR of 49 percent (Figure 8).
Figure 8. IPv6-Capable Fixed and Mobile Device Forecast 2011-2016
Significant contributors to the growth of IPv6-capable fixed devices (Table 2) include residential video-related devices such as the set-top box (STB) and IPTV, for which IPv6 is well-positioned to deliver an enhanced media experience. M2M is another important segment to watch, as IPv6 can accommodate the significant growth projected for M2M connections, as well as provide advanced M2M management capabilities.
Table 2. IPv6-Capable Fixed Devices by Device Type, in Millions, 2011-2016
Business Phones and Videoconferencing
The forecast (Figure 9) projects that globally the number of consumer IPv6-capable fixed devices will reach 2.45 billion by 2016, up from 281 million in 2011, a 54.2 percent CAGR. Business IPv6-capable fixed devices will reach 1.12 billion in 2016, up from 91 million in 2011, a 65.2 percent CAGR.
Figure 9. IPv6-Capable Fixed Devices Growth by Segment
Figure 10 shows regional forecasts. In 2011, Asia Pacific led in the number of fixed devices with IPv6 capability, 136 million, which will increase to 1.03 billion in 2016, a 49.7 percent CAGR. Middle East and Africa, although starting at only 2.4 million IPv6-capable fixed devices in 2011, will be the fastest growing region, with a 74.2 percent CAGR from 2011-16. Western Europe will have the greatest penetration of IPv6-capable fixed devices during the forecast period, increasing from 12.1 percent or 45 million devices in 2011 to 63.1 percent or 1.02 billion IPv6-capable fixed devices in 2016.
Figure 10. IPv6-Capable Fixed Devices by Region
In view of the considerable potential for fixed and mobile devices with IPv6 capability, along with the growth of IPv6-enabled web content and indications that service providers are moving forward with their IPv6 deployment strategies, the market is advancing towards an environment well-positioned for IPv6-based Internet communications and the benefits such an environment can bring to end-users as well as services and network providers.
IPv6-Capable Fixed Device Methodology
The IPv6-Capable Fixed Device Forecast (Figure 11) is aligned with the fixed devices in the Cisco VNI Forecast Update 2011-2016. Device-level IPv6 capability considerations include OS capability with IPv6 (Windows OS after XP, Mac OS, Linux, Android, Cisco IOS®), DOCSIS 3.0, IPv6-ready product designations, product announcements, and industry analysis of IPv6 device readiness. In addition, current and projected IPv6 capability of broadband CPE and enterprise routers are included within the forecast as applicable.
• Industry research: Gartner, IDC, Synergy Research, iSuppli, Heavy Reading, Nielsen, Ovum, Machina, Infonetics, and Strategy Analytics
• Industry associations, academia, and government bodies
• Vendor announcements, end-user forums, and Cisco internal IPv6 analysis
Other Trends to Watch
Cisco's approach to forecasting IP traffic is conservative, and certain emerging trends have the potential to increase the traffic outlook significantly. The most rapid upswings in traffic occur when consumer media consumption migrates from offline to online or from broadcast to unicast.
• Applications that might migrate from offline to online (cloud): The crucial application to watch in this category is gaming. Gaming-on-demand and streaming gaming platforms have been in development for several years, with many newly released in 2011 or 2012. With traditional gaming, graphical processing is done locally on the gamer's computer or console. With cloud gaming, game graphics are produced on a remote server, and transmitted over the network to the gamer. Currently, online gaming traffic represents only 0.04 percent of the total information content associated with online and offline game play2. If cloud gaming takes hold, gaming could quickly become one of the largest Internet traffic categories.
• Behavior that might migrate from broadcast to unicast: Live TV is currently distributed by means of a broadcast network, which is highly efficient in that it carries one stream to many viewers. Live TV over the Internet would carry a separate stream for each viewer. AT&T estimates that a shift from multicast or broadcast to over-the-top unicast "would multiply the IP backbone traffic by more than an order of magnitude".3
• New consumer behavior: The adoption of three-dimensional TV (3DTV) would fall into the category of new consumer behavior. The most likely scenario for home 3DTV is that it will take 3 to 5 years to gain momentum. However, 3DTV on the PC may gain momentum earlier, because it requires only a software decoder rather than a hardware decoder and therefore does not require any purchase or subscription beyond what is already paid for PC Internet access.
Table 3 shows the summary of Cisco's global IP traffic forecast. For more information and additional tables, please see Cisco VNI: Forecast and Methodology, 2011-2016.
Table 3. Global IP Traffic, 2011-2016
IP Traffic, 2011-2016
By Type (PB per Month)
By Segment (PB per Month)
By Geography (PB per Month)
Central and Eastern Europe
Middle East and Africa
Total (PB per Month)
Total IP traffic
Source: Cisco VNI, 2012
Consumer: Includes fixed IP traffic generated by households, university populations, and Internet cafés
Business: Includes fixed IP WAN or Internet traffic, excluding backup traffic, generated by businesses and governments
Mobile: Includes Internet traffic that travels over 2G, 3G, or 4G mobile access technology
Internet: Denotes all IP traffic that crosses an Internet backbone
Non-Internet IP: Includes corporate IP WAN traffic, IP transport of TV and VoD, and mobile "walled-garden" traffic
1Peer-to-peer, by definition, is highly symmetric traffic, with between 40 to 60 percent of P2P traffic consisting of upstream traffic. For every high-definition movie downloaded, approximately the same amount of traffic is uploaded to a peer. Now, with increased video traffic most of the video streams that cross the network have a highly asymmetric profile, comprised mostly of downstream traffic, except in areas where P2P TV is prevalent (in China, for example).
2Total game play (online and offline) in the United States represents an estimated 166 exabytes per month, according to the University of California, San Diego, study, "How Much Information?" (See http://hmi.ucsd.edu/howmuchinfo.php for the full report.) The Cisco VNI estimate for online gaming traffic in the U.S. is 67 petabytes per month at the end of 2011.