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How new devices and networks could actually inhibit Internet traffic growth

15 июля 2011

Many published forecasts of Internet traffic point to continued annual growth worldwide of 30–40% for the foreseeable future. Analysys Mason’s forecasts indicate a slower rate of growth than this – even at the upper limit.

There are two new trends that could potentially slow growth, which are, paradoxically, made possible only by these new networks and devices.

Devices, not services and not networks, drive consumer data usage trends. Smaller, portable devices actually engage end users for an increasing proportion of hours in the day, and of hours at home, compared to PCs and connected TVs. These smaller devices typically require lower bandwidths and consume less data, a trend reinforced by new compression standards. This substitution would result in a reduced rate of data traffic growth, although in the longer term the effect would be offset by the multiplication and personalisation of devices.

This is not the same as fixed–mobile substitution. In fact, even with LTE in place, it would be the opposite. Although smartphones and tablets are wireless, they have an increasingly fixed-line flavour to them. In developed economies, we forecast 73% of devices associated with a SIM will be fixed-network compatible by 2016. But a huge surge in small- and mid-screen device offload traffic, which will quickly overtake all cellular data traffic, would almost certainly decrease the rate of growth of total Internet traffic.

The most bandwidth-intensive applications are not always the most engaging. Analysys Mason’s Connected Consumer surveys indicate that interpersonal and social communication takes an increasing share of time spent with digital media. There are limited hours in the day and it seems possible that this could in the future have a slowing effect on more passive – and more bandwidth-intensive – online media usage.

Some forecasts may underestimate the natural barriers to increasing online media consumption and may also oversimplify the relationship between demand and on-demand. BBC iPlayer statistics indicate only modest growth in video usage during the last twelve months, driven entirely by an increasing active-user base rather than any increased average on-demand video consumption. Our own surveys suggest a rather slow migration from linear to non-linear modes of media consumption.

One of the interesting effects of high availability of ultra-fast broadband (>100Mbit/s) is that while it does not always drive greatly increased downstream usage, it does tend to drive upstream usage. Japanese broadband subscribers typically have far more access bandwidth than their European or American counterparts, but their downstream usage is not significantly different. However, broadband subscribers in Japan, and even those on European FTTH networks, show much higher upstream-to-downstream Internet traffic ratios. Peer-to-peer services drive upstream usage because high upstream bandwidth availability tends to mean users become content delivery nodes. But there are other possible causes: increased consumer usage of basic cloud-computing services is one; increased usage of advanced videocommunication another. Both extend broadband beyond simple media delivery.

We have built varying levels of these effects into Fixed Internet traffic worldwide: forecasts and analysis 2011–2016. At the upper limit, we forecast that total fixed Internet traffic worldwide will grow at a CAGR of 28% between 2010 and 2015 (it will be about 3.5 times in 2015 what it was in 2010), and 19% at the lower limit. In developed economies, the upper limit will be 24% and the lower 16% (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Internet traffic and rates of growth, upper and lower limit, worldwide, 2010–2016 [Source: Analysys Mason, 2011]


 Rupert Wood, Principal Analyst at Analysys Mason


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