By 2020, Cisco expects video to account more more than 75% of mobile data traffic, up from 55% in 2015.

By Don Clark
Feb 4, 2016

Cisco Systems Inc., whose hardware runs much of the Internet, this week estimated that data traffic from cellular networks will rise eightfold by 2020, to 367 exabytes from the 44 exabytes Cisco estimates for 2015.

An exabyte is one quintillion bytes, or one billion gigabytes. That 367 exabyte total is equivalent to posting 7 trillion video clips to YouTube, Cisco estimated.

Even at that volume, mobile will account for only 15% of total data traffic by 2020–up from 5% in 2015–but is growing at a faster rate than the overall Internet, the company said.

Cisco sees multiple drivers for the mobile data growth. Topping the list is video–both the number of videos being generated by smartphones, and the rising demand for higher-quality images that translate into more bytes of data.

By 2020, Cisco expects video to account more more than 75% of mobile data traffic, up from 55% in 2015.

A major factor in the data deluge is simply the spread of the underlying technology. Cisco expects the number of mobile users to grow reach 5.5 billion in 2020–or 70% of the world’s population–up from 4.8 billion in 2015. That would be more than the number of people with electricity (5.3 billion) or bank accounts (4.5 billion), Cisco said.

At the same time, many people have more than one mobile device–particularly as smartwatches and other wearables begin communicating, sometimes on their own without user input. Cisco said the number of mobile connected devices will rise to 11.6 billion in 2020 from 7.8 billion last year.

Shruti Jain, a Cisco senior analyst, said one of the most surprising trends in the company’s latest research if how quickly mobile data traffic is shifting to fourth-generation, or 4G, cellular networks that can move data much more quickly than the 3G networks that are popular today.

By 2020, such networks will handle connections for 40.5% of mobile devices–up from 14% in 2015–while handling 72% of mobile traffic, Cisco said.