Cisco predicts 15 billion network devices in 2015

The company thinks Internet traffic will quadruple between 2010 and 2015

The Internet will see explosive growth in connected devices and in traffic, with global traffic quadrupling between 2010 and 2015, Cisco Systems predicted in a report released Wednesday.

Global Internet traffic will be 966 exabytes (an exabyte equalling a quintillion bytes or 1,024 petabytes) in 2015, and there will be 15 billion network-connected devices, about two per person worldwide, Cisco said in its new Visual Networking Index Forecast.

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The average U.S. resident will have seven networked devices in 2015, predicted Suraj Shetty, Cisco's vice president of global service provider marketing. In 2010, there was one connected device for every human on the planet.

Internet traffic will increase by 200 exabytes between 2014 and 2015, Cisco said. Global Internet traffic in 2010 was about 20.2 exabytes per month, the company said.

The growth in traffic will largely be driven by online video and new devices such as tablets, Shetty said. An average of 1 million video minutes will cross the Internet every second during 2015, Cisco predicted in its new report, widely referenced in the past by U.S. policymakers.

About 6 percent of all Internet traffic will come from tablets in 2015, meaning that tablets will generate more traffic than all connected devices in 2006, Shetty predicted.

Cisco also predicted that Wi-Fi traffic, connecting devices including tablets, would surpass fixed broadband traffic in 2015.

This is the fifth release of Cisco's Internet traffic report. The networking equipment maker has slightly underestimated Internet traffic trends in its previous reports, Shetty said.

The growth in traffic and connected devices will have huge implications for network providers and for government policy, said a group of Internet experts gathered at a Cisco event in Washington, D.C.

Cisco predicted that global broadband speeds would increase from about 7 Mbps to 28 Mbps, but Carlos Rodriguez, manager of regulatory affairs at Telefónica USA, said the speed increases will depend on several factors. Customers are demanding more bandwidth, but many telecom carriers' revenues have been flat or declining, he said.

"We can't take investment ... for granted," he said. "There is a risk at some point that cost will surpass revenues."

If that happens, carriers may slow their investment in faster networks, Rodriguez added. Telecom carriers may need to explore tiered pricing models and new kinds of commercial agreements to keep up with demand, he said.

Blair Levin, a communications fellow at think tank the Aspen Institute, called Cisco's predictions "scary."

"We actually thought there would be a spectrum crunch before the tablet came out," said Levin, who oversaw the U.S. Federal Communications Commission's national broadband plan, released in March 2010.

The report points out the need for the U.S. and other nations to figure out better ways to reallocate spectrum for broadband uses, Levin said. Nearly all useable spectrum is already allocated, he said. "Our current methodology is we wait for a crisis, and the government just takes it back," he said.

Cisco predicted that mobile broadband traffic will be 26 times larger in 2015 than in 2010.

Levin also questioned how a continuing economic downturn would affect the broadband growth numbers. "How are people going to pay for it?" he said.

One critic questioned the Cisco report and its use by the FCC in crafting policy recommendations. Steve Crowley, a consulting engineer, called the Cisco report a "sales brochure." The FCC's national broadband plan referenced Cisco predictions several times, Crowley noted in a March blog post.

"There is overlap between the people who prepare the forecast and the people responsible for marketing Cisco's line of core-network hardware to service providers," he wrote. "The forecast is used to help sell that hardware."

The report is legitimate as a sales document, but policymakers should consider how the company's interest in selling hardware might influence the forecast, he said. Two independent research firms have been more conservative with their traffic predictions in recent years, he said.

"As with any sales pitch, whenever you hear a spectrum claim, consider the source," he wrote.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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