The Report

Three fascinating facts about the Internet of 2017

Posting in Technology

Cisco predicts global IP traffic will hit a run rate of 1.4 zettabytes of data annually by 2017. But that's not the most interesting part of the company's latest forecast.

One point four zettabytes of traffic. That's how much data Cisco predicts the world will push over the Internet annually by 2017.

Every year Cisco publishes its Visual Networking Index, a vast collection of information about Internet traffic, speeds and connection types. While most people focus on the big impressive numbers -- 1.4 zettabytes is equivalent to nearly one billion DVDs every day for a year -- the really interesting stories are found deeper in the data.

Here are three fascinating facts from this year's report.

1. Long distance traffic goes local

By 2017, 58 percent of Internet traffic will be locally delivered. That means that instead of traveling over long distances, most Internet content will be supplied to users from nearby servers. Local delivery means a higher quality Internet experience.

"The edge network ... is becoming more and more important," says Thomas Barnett, director of Thought Leadership at Cisco. "And I think that the content providers, and even some of their partners ... they're planning to partner with the carriers for exactly that reason, because they want to ensure that their product is delivered and the experience is as good as it possibly can be. ... So I think that we're seeing the edge network operators beginning to get more and more partnerships, and people are willing to pay."

On the one hand, local content delivery is a more efficient way of managing Internet traffic. On the other hand, increasing dependence on edge network operators means there's an economic power shift in the making.

"Content is still king," Barnett says, " but I think more and more we're seeing the importance of the edge drive some of the economic factors that we're seeing."

2. The U.S. reigns supreme

In 2012, the United States was the country responsible for the most traffic on the Internet, generating an average of 13.1 billion exabytes of data per month. China came in second, but with a total of only 5.5 billion exabytes of data monthly. Why is the U.S., with a much smaller population, so far ahead?

"Globally we're seeing that really consumer traffic drives about 80 percent on average, about 80 percent of overall IP and Internet traffic," Barnett says. "When we look at the United States in particular, it's the number of devices that we're seeing, devices and connections. So we have a lot more of the -- on a per capita basis -- tablets, high-definition sets, things like that. And our consumption is also much higher."

The U.S. will still be ahead of everyone in 2017. China's traffic growth is expected to increase faster, at a rate of 27 percent versus 23 percent. However, the United States will continue to be responsible for more than twice the amount of traffic as China in four years: 37.1 billion exabytes monthly versus 18.1 billion.

3. Internet traffic will fracture across billions of new connections

One of the fastest growing sectors of the Internet is machine-to-machine connections. But despite their growing dominance, the data generated by those machines -- data such as sensor readings and warning alerts -- will continue to make up only a small share of overall traffic.

"The real issue that we're beginning to delve into," Barnett says, "[is] the signaling, the authentication, and the reliability of the network to be able to support always-on machine-to-machine connections. ...The reliability of the network is important, and the redundancy of the network."

In other words, it's not only the size of the data that will matter in the future, but how it is managed from billions and billions of new connected machines.

(Image courtesy of Stock.xchg)

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Mari Silbey

Contributing Editor

Mari Silbey is an independent tech writer based in Washington, D.C. With a background in cable and telecom, she's a contributor to several trade publications, and part of the GigaOM analyst network. She also writes for the long-running digital media blog Zatz Not Funny, and has written for both corporate and association clients focused on broadband networks, mobile apps, and video delivery. She's a graduate of Duke University. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure