Wearables will fuel a massive surge in mobile data by 2019

Offloading traffic to Wi-Fi networks will happen more frequently, Cisco Systems says

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The rapidly growing popularity of wearable devices will lead to a surge in volume of mobile traffic, Cisco is predicting.

Cisco forecasts that 578 million wearable devices will be in use around the globe by 2019, up from 109 million last year. That's a fivefold increase, but the resulting mobile data traffic will increase by a factor of 18 -- though most of that traffic will be channeled through smartphones, the networking giant claimed Tuesday in its annual look ahead at traffic trends.

Some wearables, like the upcoming Apple Watch, require using a smartphone to transmit data. But the devices on average already generate six times more traffic per month than a basic handset, Cisco said. Its high-end example of a wearable is a GoPro video cameras, which can generate about 5 MB of mobile data traffic per minute when live streaming.

Overall, there will be 11.5 billion mobile connections by 2019. Of those, 8.3 billion will come from personal mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets and laptops, which Cisco claimed will see a resurgence as they take on more features found in tablets.

The remaining 3.2 billion connections will come from machine-to-machine communications. Cisco places wearable devices like smartwatches, wireless wearable cameras and fitness trackers in this category.

By 2019, Cisco predicts, more than 69 percent of the world's population will use mobile devices. That's around 5.2 billion people out of a forecasted population of 7.6 billion, Cisco said.

Not surprisingly, the increase in mobile users will cause global wireless data traffic to rise, with Cisco predicting a tenfold increase by 2019. Last year global wireless data traffic tallied 30 exabytes. That figure should reach 292 exabytes by 2019, Cisco claimed.

To put 292 exabytes in perspective, that is the equivalent of the Earth's population posting more than two daily video clips to YouTube, or 23 images to Instagram, every a day for a year.

Mobile carriers won't depend solely on their cellular networks to handle this traffic. Instances of offloading, where traffic is passed off from cellular networks to Wi-Fi and small-cell networks, will increase to 54 percent, Cisco said. Last year, 46 percent of mobile data traffic was offloaded this way.

Traffic from cloud services like Netflix, Spotify and YouTube will account for 90 percent of total mobile data traffic, growing from 2 exabytes per month in 2014 to 21.8 exabytes per month by 2019. People should be able to access these services with faster mobile speeds, which will increase to an average of 4Mbps by 2019 from 1.7Mbps in 2014.

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