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Wi-Fi 6, 5G play big in Cisco’s mobile forecast

News Analysis
Feb 19, 20196 mins
MobileNetworkingSmall and Medium Business

Cisco: By 2022, mobile will represent nearly 20 percent of all global IP traffic, fueled in part by the Internet of Things.

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The popularity of mobile devices will continue its dramatic growth over the next four years as new technologies kick in with higher density and bandwidth, according to Cisco’s annual Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update (2017 – 2022) released this week. 

Perhaps the key forecast: Mobile traffic will be on the verge of reaching an annual run rate of a zettabyte by the end of 2022. In that timeframe, mobile traffic will represent nearly 20 percent of global IP traffic and will reach 930 exabytes annually – nearly 113 times more than all mobile traffic generated globally in 2012. (An exabyte is 1,000,000,000 gigabytes and a zettabyte is 1,000 exabytes.)

The Cisco Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update is part the company’s overarching Visual Networking Index (VNI) that tracks and forecasts all manner of networking trends and directions culled from its own network traffic reports and independent analyst forecasts.

Other mobility predictions from Cisco:

  • By 2022, there will be more than 12 billion mobile-ready devices and IoT connections, up from about 9 billion in 2017.
  • By 2022, mobile networks will support more than 8 billion personal mobile devices and 4 billion IoT connections.
  • The average mobile network speeds globally will increase more than three-fold from 8.7Mbps in 2017 to 28.5Mbps by 2022.
  • By 2022, mobile video will represent 79 percent of global mobile data traffic, up from 59 percent in 2017.
  • By 2022, 79 percent of the world’s mobile data traffic will be video, up from 59 percent in 2017.
  • Mobile offload exceeded cellular traffic by a ton in 2017; 54 percent of total mobile data traffic was offloaded onto the fixed-line network through Wi-Fi or femtocell in 2017.
  • In 2017, 4G already carried 72 percent of the total mobile traffic and represented the largest share of mobile data traffic by network type. It will continue to grow faster than other networks, however the percentage share will go down slightly to 71 percent of all mobile data traffic by 2022.

Wi-Fi offloading to blossom

For this study, Cisco also focused on measuring which organizations offloaded traffic from dual-mode devices (excluding laptops) that support both cellular and Wi-Fi connectivity, for example.

“Offloading occurs at the user or device level when one switches from a cellular connection to Wi-Fi or small-cell access. Our mobile offload projections include traffic from both public hotspots and residential Wi-Fi networks,” Cisco said.

“As a percentage of total mobile data traffic from all mobile-connected devices, mobile offload increases from 54 percent (13.4 exabytes/month) in 2017 to 59 percent (111.4 exabytes/month) by 2022. Offload volume is determined by smartphone penetration, dual-mode share of handsets, percentage of home-based mobile Internet use, and percentage of dual-mode smartphone owners with Wi-Fi fixed Internet access at home,” Cisco said. 

Other Wi-Fi predictions from the study:

  • By 2022, 59 percent of global mobile data traffic (cellular) will be offloaded to Wi-Fi or small cell networks, up from 54 percent in 2017.
  • By 2022, 51 percent of total IP traffic will be Wi-Fi, 29 percent will be wired, and 20 percent will be mobile (cellular). In 2017, total IP traffic was 48 percent wired, 43 percent WiFi,  and 9 percent mobile (cellular).
  • Globally, total public Wi-Fi hotspots (including homespots) will grow four-fold from 124 million in 2017 to 549 million by 2022.
  • In 2022 the average Wi-Fi connection speed will be 54.2 Mbps, up 2.2 times from 2017 to 2022.

Wi-Fi 6 – aka 802.11ax – will also be a factor in future installations, bringing with it a host of upgrades aimed at simplifying wireless network problems, Cisco said. Wi-Fi 6 supports multi-user, multiple-input, multiple-output (MU-MIMO) technology, meaning that a given access point can handle traffic from up to eight users at the same time and at the same speed. Previous-generation APs still divide their attention and bandwidth among simultaneous users.

Wi-Fi 6 will also support larger constellations of low-powered IoT devices using fewer access points. The reliably deterministic nature of Wi-Fi 6 combined with its speed means it should be usable for life-safety applications, such as remote surgery devices, said Anand Oswal, senior vice president of engineering in Cisco’s Enterprise Networking Business recently.

5G is looming big

While mobility and WiFi trends were two of the biggest items in the Cisco study, 5G directions made up a significant part of the report.

“The full value and transformational capabilities of 5G cannot simply be measured by performance improvements over 4G (higher bandwidth, broader coverage, and lower latency),” wrote Thomas Barnett, director of Cisco’s service-provider thought leadership in a blog about the report. “5G will also deliver enhanced power efficiency, cost optimization, massive IoT connection density and dynamic allocation of resources based on awareness of content, user, and location.”

5G will be able to concurrently support both low-end IoT applications, such as sensors and meters, as well as high-end IoT applications, such as autonomously driven cars, Barnett wrote.

The study said 5G growth will be driven by IoT applications – sensors and meters on the low end to autonomous cars on the high end. Awareness of conent, user and location will determine how 5G resources are allocated. “This technology is expected to solve frequency licensing and spectrum management issues. Large scale commercial deployments are not expected until the latter years of the current forecast,” Cisco said.

Some other 5G facts:

  • By 2022, 5G connections will represent over three percent of total mobile connections and will account for nearly 12 percent of global mobile data traffic.
  • By 2022, the average 5G connection (22 GB/month) will generate nearly three times more traffic than the average 4G connection (8 GB/month).
  • By 2022, 4G connections will be 54.3 percent of total mobile connections, compared to 34.7 percent in 2017. The global mobile 4G connections will grow from 3 billion in 2017 to 6.7 billion by 2022 at a CAGR of 18 percent. 5G connections will appear on the scene in 2019 and will grow several thousand percent from under half a million in 2019 to over 400 million by 2022.

IP traffic explosion

In its most recent VNI update Cisco said it foresees a massive buildup of IP traffic – 4.8 zettabytes per year by 2022, which is over three times the 2017 rate – lead by the increase in IoT traffic and video. The company also says there will be 4.8 billion internet users by 2022, up from 3.4 billion in 2017.

The VNI predicts an explosion of machine-to-machine (M2M) and IoT traffic. For example M2M modules account for 3.1 percent of IP traffic in 2017, but will be 6.4 percent of IP traffic by 2022. By 2022, M2M connections will be 51 percent of the total devices and connections on the internet.