If it seems like everybody has some kind of mobile device these days—or at least almost everyone does—you're not alone. The 10th annual Cisco Visual Networking Index (VNI) came out recently, and its predictions for mobile confirm our anecdotal evidence: a huge number of mobile users are already on hand, and that number will only grow to at least 2020.
The VNI Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast (2015 to 2020) had a lot to say on the topic, starting with the stark fact that, since just 2000 when the first camera phone was introduced, the total number of mobile users has grown five times over. That growth will continue through 2020, when there will be about 5.5 billion mobile users worldwide, representing 70 percent of the planet's population. Seventy-two percent of the total mobile device loadout is expected to be smart devices, and the rise of all these extra users—coupled with things like mobile video and 4G networks—will mean mobile data traffic will rise a combined total of eight-fold over the next five years.
Global mobile data traffic will reach 30.6 exabytes a month, from its 2015 levels of 3.7 exabytes. An exabyte is effectively one billion gigabytes. That puts annual traffic around 366.8 exabytes, and that's up enormously from 44.2 exabytes annually in 2015. In fact, that 366.8 exabyte number represents 120 times the entirety of global mobile traffic in 2010. It's also the equivalent of 28 daily images on Instagram for every person on Earth, or around two and a half video clips on YouTube per day.
Throw in the rise of machine-to-machine (M2M) connectivity—which will itself represent about 26.4 percent of mobile-connected devices by 2020—and the numbers are staggering; increased mobile coverage will make more devices available to more users, and those who can use such devices will rapidly discover new and unexpected uses for such systems. A host of new devices with new connection options mean plenty of new connections going on, and new services being delivered to people who will likely all wonder how we ever got along without these.
A growing array of new devices—smartwatches and health monitors are actually part of the roster—to put incredible demand on the network; all these new devices will need a means to connect, and most likely won't want to hear about limits on that connectivity. However, with new developments in connectivity like Google's recently-unveiled Project Skybender, the network might well be more ready to cope with the hugely-expanded use cases than anyone might suspect.
It's a long way to 2020, but we're already seeing some of the impact of this study come out right now. More users will use more devices in more ways, putting intense strain on the network's ability to provide coverage. Smart networks are already getting ready for this change, which will hit whether it's ready or not.