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“In 2016, over 1.3 Zettabytes of data will travel across Internet protocol (IP) networks. That’s over 10 times the traffic generated in 2008 and more than all the IP traffic that traversed global networks from 1984 to 2012 combined (1.2 Zettabytes).”

This estimate is from the latest Visual Networking Index (VNI) released today by Cisco which forecasts IP network traffic patterns from 2011 to 2016. The annual VNI rolling five year forecast has become a trusted industry barometer for how rapidly the use of global IP networks is expanding.

So what’s driving the explosive data growth?

Well, more Internet users as there will be approximately 3.4 billion people online by 2016; more devices with nearly 19 billion network-connected devices by 2016; faster broadband speeds that will support greater consumption of IP content; and much more video content driving demand.

And government policies will play a role in how quickly this transition into this “Zettabyte Era” occurs.

The networks of the future that will support this data explosion will require both fixed and wireless connectivity. As the VNI forecast illustrates, wireless portable and mobile devices are replacing fixed PCs. These untethered devices will place a greater demand on radio spectrum resources for macro and small cells at access points and will require greater bandwidth in the middle mile and backhaul, which will inevitably have to be fiber.

High bandwidth networks of the future will be “Het Nets”, or heterogeneous networks, comprising wireless and wired technologies that increasingly rely on fiber optic cables and greater licensed and license-exempt spectrum.

So to get from the Exabyte era of today, to the Zettabyte era by 2016, we’ll need industry, government and the technical community working together to solve the next set of challenges related to technical issues, business models, and public policy.

Click here to watch the VNI launch event at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., including a panel discussion I hosted that featured government and industry leaders. And to read what my colleague, Doug Webster, who presented the VNI results at the launch event, has to say about the VNI, click here.

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