By 2017, there will be more mobile internet devices on the planet than people, new research indicates, putting the internet itself under strain.
In a new report - the Cisco Visual Networking Index Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast for 2012 to 2017 - Cisco says there will be more than 7.6 billion smartphones, tablets and laptops in use in under four years' time.
Meanwhile, it says, mobile data traffic will increase 13-fold over the next four years, reaching 11.2 exabytes per month by 2017. This is equivalent to 134 times all the Internet Protocol traffic (fixed and mobile) generated in the year 2000, or three trillion video clips.
And by 2017, global mobile data traffic will be growing at an even faster rate. Indeed, the report forecasts that, between 2016 and 2017, the incremental amount of traffic being added to the mobile internet will be 3.7 exabytes per month - more than four times the estimated size of the entire mobile internet in 2012.
"By 2017, global mobile data traffic will continue its truly remarkable growth, increasing 13-fold over the next five years, to reach an amount more than 46 times the total amount of mobile IP traffic just a few years ago in 2010, says Doug Webster, Cisco's vice president of service provider networking marketing.
"With such dramatic adoption, we are rapidly approaching the time when nearly every network experience will be a mobile one and, more often than not, a visual one as well. This trend is a result of the seemingly insatiable demand by consumers and businesses alike to achieve the benefits gained when connecting people, data, and things in an Internet of Everything."
Regionally, most growth will come from Asia, the Pacific and Africa; in terms of devices, tablets will lead the way, with the number rising by an average of 46 percent per year. Tablet data use will rise even faster, more than doubling year-on-year.
The rapid rise in traffic, says Cisco, will put pressire on internet providers to shift across to the next-generation IPv6 system which has an almost limitless capacity. So far, the cost of the switch has put many operators off.