According to the Cisco Visual Network Index Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast for 2011 to 2016, worldwide mobile data traffic will increase 18-fold during this time period reaching 10.8 exabytes per month - or an annual run rate of 130 exabytes - by 2016. The expected sharp increase in mobile traffic is due to a projected surge in the number of mobile Internet -connected devices, which will exceed the number of people on earth, which the United Nations estimates the world population to be 7.3 billion by 2016.
Cisco (San Jose, Calif., USA) forecast's annual run rate of 130 exabytes of mobile data traffic is equivalent to 33 billion DVDs, 4.3 quadrillion MP3 files (music/audio), and 813 quadrillion short message service (SMS) text messages. An exabyte is a unit of information or computer storage equal to one quintillion bytes.
This traffic increase represents a compound annual growth rate of 78% spanning the same period. The incremental amount of traffic being added to the mobile internet between 2015 and 2016 alone is approximately three times the estimated size of the entire mobile internet in 2012, according to Cisco.
During 2011 to 2016 Cisco anticipates that global mobile data traffic will outgrow global fixed data traffic by three times. Several major global trends are driving these significant mobile data traffic increases, including:
The Rise of Cloud: Mobile cloud traffic will grow 28-fold from 2011 to 2016, a compound annual growth rate of 95%.
More Mobile Connections: There will be more than 10 billion mobile Internet-connected devices in 2016, including machine-to-machine (M2M ) modules - exceeding the world's projected population at that time of 7.3 billion.
Enhanced Computing of Devices: Mobile devices are becoming more powerful and thus able to consume and generate more data traffic. Tablets are a prime example of this trend generating traffic levels that will grow 62-fold from 2011 to 2016-the highest growth rate of any device category tracked in the forecast. The amount of mobile data traffic generated by tablets in 2016 (1 exabyte per month) will be four times greater than the total amount of monthly global mobile, says Cisco.
Faster Mobile Speeds: Mobile network connection speed is a key enabler for mobile data traffic growth. More speed means more consumption, and Cisco projects mobile speeds (including 2G , 3G  and 4G networks) to increase nine-fold from 2011 to 2016.
More Mobile video: Cisco predicts that mobile video will make up 71% of mobile data traffic by 2016.
The Cisco study also projects that 71% of all smartphones and tablets (1.6 billion) could potentially be capable of connecting to an Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6 ) mobile networks by 2016. From a broader perspective, 39% of all global mobile devices (more than four billion), could be IPv6 -capable by 2016.
According to Cisco, the increasing number of wireless devices and nodes accessing mobile networks worldwide is the primary contributor to traffic growth. By 2016, there will be more than eight billion handheld or personal mobile-ready devices and nearly two billion machine-to-machine connections, such as GPS systems in cars, asset tracking systems in shipping and manufacturing sectors and medical applications , making patient records and health status more readily available.
Smart phones, laptops and other portable devices will drive about 90% of global mobile data traffic by 2016, says the company. M2M traffic will represent 5% of 2016 global mobile data traffic while residential broadband mobile gateways will account for the remaining 5% of global mobile data traffic.
To address the rise in demand for the mobile Internet, service providers are increasingly looking to offload traffic to fixed/Wi-Fi networks. In 2011, 11% or 72 petabytes per month, of total mobile data traffic was offloaded. By 2016, 22% or 3.1 exabytes per month of total mobile data traffic will be offloaded, according to Cisco.
Without offload, the 2011 - 2016 global mobile data traffic CAGR would be 84% instead of 78%, says Cisco. Should all aspects of mobility be taken into consideration, such as cellular traffic, traffic offloaded from cellular networks and fixed/Wi-Fi traffic generated from portable devices, the total amount of mobility traffic would be more than four times higher than the Cisco forecast's 2016 cellular traffic level. In 2011, the sum of cellular traffic; cellular offload traffic; and fixed/Wi-Fi traffic from portable devices (10.8 exabytes per month) totaled 10.9 exabytes per month:
According to the forecast, the Middle East and Africa will have the highest regional mobile data traffic growth rate with a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 104%. Asia-Pacific is predicted to have an 84% CAGR, while Central and Eastern Europe will have an 83% CAGR. Latin America is predicted to have a 79% CAGR, North America, 75%, and Western Europe, 68%.