How Much Traffic Does Streaming Video Streaming Generate?

Lots of video surfing pumps lots of traffic to users

Do you know how much traffic the act of streaming video to a user's device generates? Chances are you don't, and you don't particularly care. But you should, because lively video surfing by lots of users can affect your work and home life. When you multiply the traffic that video surfing generates over the course of a month by the number of users doing the surfing, it can add up to a helluva lot! This can congest your corporate WAN, rack up a big bill if your kids eat streaming video on cellular connections, and amount to more than a hill of beans when your local ISP decides it's no longer an all-you-can eat world.

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NetForecast has been tracking Internet traffic trends for over 20 years, and we have seen US-based traffic burgeon at a 50% CAGR for the last 10 years. So what is driving this traffic growth these days?  After testing a wide range of applications, we determined that streaming video is a big contributor. The reason is that video streaming eats an enormous amount data at the beginning of a session to fill the buffer. After that the flow levels off, and just enough data is requested to keep the buffer full.

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Watching full-length movies is not the culprit. Watching an hour-long NetFlix movie consumes only about 1GB of data. It is video surfing at home or work--e.g., viewing YouTube clips or Flixster movie trailers--that is more pervasive and data intensive. As with TV channel changing, video streaming users often skip around until they find something that holds their interest. In the course of skipping around, each video clip surfed generates a big download, regardless of whether the content is ever viewed.

The following chart summarizes the amount of data consumed by three popular video streaming services after a video is requested, but before it begins to play.

At first glance the data volume seems small, averaging between 10MB-20MB. But think about use scenarios. Two users spend 20 minutes surfing the Internet. The first user views 15 web pages with an average page size of 1.4MB, while the second user watches four YouTube videos (2 @ 15MB and  2 @ 37MB) as well as two Flixster trailers (1 @ 17MB & 1 @ 40MB). The following chart tells a very different story.

When you multiply the amount of data generated by video surfing over the course of a month by the number of video clip surfing users on your corporate or household network, you are dealing with a megabyte mountain.

See our colleague Greg Wolf's blog on the subject at

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.