Brace yourselves for data explosion

Cape Town – If you thought you've seen rapid internet growth in the past couple of years in South Africa, prepare yourself for a data explosion.

Telecommunications giant Cisco's network index shows that the amount of mobile data (the internet on cellphones, tablet computers and laptops) in South Africa will increase forty-ninefold over the next four years. In other words, from today the volume of data consumed on mobile devices will more than double each year.

By 2016, 102 000 terabytes of information will be sent every month. This is the equivalent of about 26m DVDs or 283m SMSes a second.

In that year the average mobile internet speed will be 5.4 megabits per second – enough to watch a movie smoothly on the internet. This is vastly different from last year's average South African mobile internet speed of 374 kilobits a second.

It will be made possible by faster internet connections such as 4G and LTE (long-term evolution), which will soon be available in South Africa.

“In the past we were somewhat conservative with our forecasts,” said Kevin Bloch, Cisco Australia’s head of technology.

According to him, the network index is a mathematical model that has been pretty accurate for the past five years. It's the same model Cisco offers telecommunications companies like Telkom [TKG] and Vodacom Group [JSE:VOD] to enable them to adjust their pricing structures.

The substantial annual growth of mobile data in Africa is greater than in any other global region.

According to Bloch, the demand for mobile data is being driven by factors such as more ways to connect (cellphones, tablets and laptops), faster speeds, more users and, most importantly, more video material.

From Cisco’s date it appears that users in South Africa have an insatiable appetite for viewing videos on cellphones and tablets.

This demand is growing so quickly that the company predicts that about 84% of all mobile data will involve video by 2016. Last year it comprised 45%.

Growth in tablet computers, which did not exist two years ago, is also rising markedly.

Tablets inherently use more data than cellphones, and Cisco expects the volume of data being sent from tablets in 2016 to be almost twice the size of the internet in South Africa in 2011. That of course includes mobile and fixed-line internet connections (such as ADSL).

The company expects that accessing the internet on mobile devices will becoming increasingly popular. Mobile data is expected to grow three times faster than fixed-line data.

By 2016 the amount of mobile data traffic will be almost 17 times the entire South African internet of 2005.

The company expects that by 2016 there will be about 10 billion mobile connections like cellphones and smartphones, considerably more than the anticipated population. According to Bloch this is because people will own more than one mobile device, such as both a cellphone and a tablet.

“This is incredible, given that ten years ago no one even owned a cellphone,” he said.

The mobile internet then and now:


The monthly mobile data volume on the internet was 2090 terabytes – equal to about a million DVDs or 6m text messages per second.

Cellphones made up 18% of mobile internet traffic.


The monthly mobile data volume is expected to be 102 000 terabytes. That is equal to about 26m DVDs or 283m SMSes per second.

Cellphones will make up 33% of mobile internet traffic.

The amount of mobile data in 2016 will be around 0.1 exabytes, or more than one exabyte per year.

An exabyte is about a billion gigabytes (one byte with 18 zeros; the escalation is kilo, mega, giga, tera, peta, exa).

 - Sake24

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