The Zettabyte Era


If you need another reason to complain about data caps—we’re looking at you, Comcast—consider that combined Internet traffic is expected to top the zettabyte mark this year, according to Cisco’s Visual Networking Index, an ongoing survey of web traffic and trends.

What is a zettabyte? It’s equivalent to around:

  • 1,000 exabytes
  • 1,000,000 petabytes
  • 1,000,000,000 terabytes
  • 1,000,000,000,000 gigabytes
  • 1,000,000,000,000,000 megabytes

These are rounded measurements, mind you, but you get the idea—a zettabyte is a lot of data, enough to fill about a hundred thousand of those fancy helium infused 10TB hard drives.

The explosion in Internet traffic is predominantly mobile—smartphones, laptops, tablets. Since the first camera phone was introduced in 2000, the number of mobile users has quintupled, and by 2020, Cisco predicts there will be 5.5 billion mobile users.

“With the ever-increasing billions of people and things that are being connected, mobility is the predominant medium that’s enabling today’s global digitization transformation,” said Doug Webster, vice president of service provider marketing, Cisco. “Future mobile innovations in cellular, such as 5G, and Wi-Fi solutions will be needed to further address new scale requirements, security concerns, and user demands. IoT advancements will continue to fuel tangible benefits for people, businesses, and societies.”

Not surprisingly, mobile video is growing the most of any mobile application. This is because faster online connections—think 4G LTE—have enabled higher resolution video feeds.

These trends don’t show any signs of slowing down. Just the opposite, Cisco says that by 2010, global mobile data traffic will reach 30.6 exabytes per month, up from 3.7 exabytes in 2015. An auditing of the web will also show 81 trillion images and 7 trillion video clips by 2020.

Data caps are the bane of this increased dependence on Internet connectivity, particularly among smartphone owners, though expect more Wi-Fi hotspots in the future. Cisco reckons that the total number of Wi-Fi hotspots, including home spots, will grow seven-fold from 2015 (64 million) to 2020 (432 million).

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