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Wireless Data Demand in U.S. Isn’t Slowing, Cisco Says

Cisco’s latest annual estimate of wireless data usage shows demand for wireless data growing.

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Americans are using lots of wireless data and their demand for more isn’t expected to drop anytime soon, according to Cisco System’s latest mobile data traffic forecast.

Mobile data traffic is expected to increase eightfold by 2018, with a compounded annual growth rate of 50 percent, according to Cisco’s latest annual VNI Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast. Cisco has been doing this widely cited forecast for eight years.

“We haven’t seen any flattening out of this curve,” said Mary Brown, Cisco’s director of technology and spectrum policy. Video traffic continues to drive wireless data consumption, Cisco executives said, whether that’s one-to-one video calls or HD downloads of movies and YouTube videos.

AT&T and other U.S. wireless carriers are already offloading some wireless traffic onto Wi-Fi networks and that trend is only expected to grow, the survey finds. “It’s clear that for cellular mobile [providers], Wi-Fi has become indispensable for managing traffic,” said Robert Pepper, Cisco’s vice president of global technology policy. “It’s even greater when we move into the 4G world.”

The average monthly traffic of wireless devices is expected to go up across the board, even for those people using phones that aren’t so smart in 2018.

Interestingly, smartphones are expected to be a smaller percentage of overall number of devices in 2018 (down 7 percent to about 41 percent) while cheaper mobile phones could drop even more (from 28 percent to less than one percent), Cisco predicts.

Instead, a greater proportion of mobile data traffic could be used by machine-to-machine devices (M2M in the chart below), which are all those “Internet of things” gadgets and sensors that companies were talking about at CES this year.

Those devices include things like the wireless traffic avoidance systems that the government is considering mandating in new cars, wearable devices like fitness monitors, home security and other residential systems like the Nest thermostat.

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