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The Machines Are Talking a Lot

The rise of sensors, surveillance cameras, and other automated devices can be seen in a new analysis of Internet traffic.
February 14, 2012

As one of the leading manufacturers of the equipment that routes data around the Internet, Cisco Systems is in good position to know just how many 0s and 1s go zipping around all day, every day. Today it released an annual analysis of how much Internet usage is growing on mobile devices, and the report produced some staggering numbers.

For example, Cisco estimates that the amount of data that was ferried to and from mobile devices last year was eight times greater than the data on all of the Internet in 2000. Global mobile data traffic is expected to see an 18-fold increase between 2011 and 2016. Not surprisingly, video is a big reason: Cisco expects there to be 7.6 exabytes of data flowing to mobile devices every month in 2016, about 70 percent of the total of 10.8 exabytes of data per month. (An exabyte is more than 1 billion gigabytes and equivalent to 250 million DVDs, if that helps you wrap your mind around it.)

But you might be surprised by the second-leading source of the expected surge in traffic. It won’t come from people, but from machine-to-machine communications, or “M2M.” Think of sensors in cars and in appliances, surveillance cameras, smart electric meters, and devices still to come, monitoring the world and reporting to each other and to centralized computers what they’re detecting. The chart below, reprinted from the Cisco report, shows just how extreme the jump in machine-to-machine communications could be. It is expected to grow, on average, 86 percent a year, and by 2016 it is expected to reach 508 petabytes a month, or half a billion gigabytes.

Source: Cisco’s Visual Networking Index Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update, 2011-2016

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