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Forecasting Mobile Data Traffic Growth

Darrell M. West and Joshua Bleiberg

Mobile data traffic has exploded around the world as tablets, smartphones, and cellphones have proliferated to every corner of the globe.  Each year, Cisco releases its updated Visual Networking Index (VNI) survey, which includes data on the volume of mobile traffic.  Cisco VNI combines analyst assessments and direct data collection to forecast anticipated mobile data growth.    

We retrieved data from Cisco VNI forecasts for the years from 2009 to 2014. In looking at its projections, their forecasts show a high rate of mobile traffic growth, but at decreasing rates each year. Table 1 shows the Compound Annual Growth Rate that Cisco VNI has reported (see the links below for each year’s report). From this, we can see that Cisco has dropped its mobile growth projections from 131 percent in 2009 to 61 percent in 2014.

Table 1  Cisco VNI Global Mobile Traffic Predicted Compound Annual Growth Rates Over Time

Table 2 CAGRs

The reason these numbers are important is that variations in Compound Annual Growth Rates have tremendous implications in terms of longterm projections. For example, Figure 1 depicts Cisco VNI forecasts for mobile traffic growth at different levels of growth.  If one extrapolates each of those projections through the out years, one can see significant impact on the numbers. For example, a growth rate of 61 percent leads to a 2018 forecast of 16 exabytes per month, while one of 131 percent generates a 2018 forecast of 143 exabytes per month.

Figure 1  Impact of Differential Growth Rates on Projections of Global Mobile Data Traffic

Figure 1 Global Data Projects

The clear implication of this analysis is that researchers should be cautious about five-year projections. Small differences in compound annual growth rates produce very different numbers in the out-years. They lead to very different needs in terms of infrastructure development, private investment, and spectrum policy. It makes a big difference whether the world expects 16 or 143 exabytes per month of mobile data traffic in 2018. 


Sonia Vora contributed to this post.

Data retrieved from the Cisco VNI forecasts for the years 2009 to 2014.  See table below for links.


Report Year Link
2009   “Cisco Visual Networking Index: Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update.”



Joshua Bleiberg

Ph.D. student - Vanderbilt University

Former Research Analyst - The Brookings Institution

2010   “Cisco Visual Networking Index Forecast Predicts Continued Mobile Data Traffic Surge.”

2011   “Cisco Visual Networking Index Forecast Projects 26-Fold Growth in Global Mobile Data Traffic from 2010 to 2015.”

2012   “Cisco Visual Networking Index Forecast Projects 18-Fold Growth in Global Mobile Internet Data Traffic from 2011 to 2016.”

2013   “Cisco Visual Networking Index: Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update, 2012-2017.”

2014   “VNI Mobile Forecast Highlights, 2013-2018.”


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