If there were any doubt the world is going mobile, it should be tossed out the window today.
A Cisco Systems' forecast, released today, claims that by 2016, there will be over 8 billion handheld or "personal mobile-ready" devices operating globally. In addition, nearly 2 billion "machine-to-machine" connections, including GPS systems and medical applications, will be in use.
All those devices will drive mobile data traffic up 18-fold, reaching 10.8 exabytes per month, or 130 exabytes a year, by 2016, according to the Cisco report officially dubbed the Visual Networking Index Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast.
To put these figures into perspective, 130 exabytes is equal to 33 billion DVDs, 4.3 quadrillion MP3 files, or 813 quadrillion text messages. This year, Cisco expects just 1.3 exabytes to be used each month.
Some of the world's top carriers are struggling to keep up with mobile data demands, and major companies, like Verizon and AT&T, have instituted tiered plans to ratchet back user consumption of mobile data. Still, if Cisco's forecast is to be believed, carriers will be forced to spend boatloads of cash in the coming years on improving infrastructure to handle the sheer amount of data that will cross their lines.
"By 2016, 60 percent of mobile users--3 billion people worldwide--will belong to the 'Gigabyte Club,' each generating more than one gigabyte of mobile data traffic per month," Cisco vice president of product and solutions marketing, Suraj Shetty, said in a statement. "By contrast, in 2011, only one-half percent of mobile users qualified. This impressive growth in mobile traffic will be driven by more powerful devices, notably smartphones and tablets, using faster networks, such as 4G and Wi-Fi, to access more applications, particularly data-intensive video."
By the end of this year, Cisco believes the average smartphone connection speed will hit 1.8Mbps. By 2016, that figure could grow to 5.2Mbps, representing a 31 percent compound annual growth rate.
Cisco's forecast was based on analyst forecasts and real-world mobile data usage. The company also employed computing power, mobile broadband speeds, and its own estimates to help it arrive at certain figures.
In the past, Cisco's forecasts have been quite accurate. In last year's study, the company forecast mobile Internet traffic to grow 131 percent in 2011. Actual mobile Internet traffic growth in the year was 133 percent.