When the first Motorola brickphones hit our shores back in the mid 80's, we were all too preoccupied with big hair, shoulder pads and yuppies. Mobile data wasn't even a consideration.

Yet here we are in 2014 and the numbers around mobile data are nothing short of spectacular. According to Dr Robert Pepper, Cisco's Vice President of Global Technology Policy, who manages the "Visual Networking Index Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast", worldwide mobile data traffic volumes will increase 11-fold over the next four years to hit a stonking 190 exabytes of data by 2018.

An exabyte is not a trivial amount of data. Putting it in layperson speak, it is equal to one quintillion bytes - Cisco say that it's about 42 trillion images posted on Instagram (which works out to a staggering 15 photos per day, posted per person on earth for a year). Putting it another way, that's roughly equal to 4 million video clips being posted to YouTube.

Cisco attribute this massive surge in mobile data to the global rush to embrace smartphones. Further adding to things is adoption of what they call machine-to-machine hardware, which are mobile capable widgets such as burglar alarms that use mobile data for monitoring or vehicle tracking gadgets for fleet management.


Rise of the machines

Cisco say that machine-to-machine hardware will exceed 10 billion units by 2018, meaning there will be 1.4 times more machine-to-machine devices than there will be people on earth (the UN estimates there will be 7.6 billion people by 2018).

This adds up to a colossal pile of data going mobile. Just between 2017 and 2018 Cisco say that there will be 5.1 exabytes per month being zapped about the Internet from mobile hardware. Putting that into perspective, this amount is three times the estimated size of the entire mobile Internet for 2013 (which say Cisco was a still impressive 1.5 exabytes per month).

In short, some massive growth is going to happen in the mobile space. Cisco are forecasting that global mobile traffic growth will outpace global fixed traffic growth by a factor of three. As growing numbers of mobile users (by 2018, there will be 4.9 billion mobile users, up from 4.1 billion in 2013) embrace smart devices.

Mobile Connections Go Nuts

This according to Cisco will drive more mobile connections. By 2018, Cisco say that there'll be over 10 billion connections. This will include eight billion personal mobile devices and two billion machine-to-machine connections, which is a big jump from the seven billion connections in 2013.

Mobile data is also set to get faster according to Cisco who say that average global mobile network speeds will nearly double from 1.4 Mbps in 2013 to 2.5 Mbps by 2018 (the average is a global number which means that developing nations who've yet to embrace faster 3G or 4G technologies keep the average low, even though 4G in New Zealand has seen blazing mobile data speeds available nearly everywhere there's mobile reception with Telecom or Vodafone and hopefully soon 2Degrees).

Increased data speeds is definitely a good thing, as another trend noted by Cisco is that there will be a whole lot more mobile video being consumed. By 2018, Cisco say that mobile video will represent 69 per cent of global mobile data traffic, up from an already impressive 53 percent in 2013.

More Smarties and Wearable Computing

Cisco say that globally, 54 per cent of mobile connections will be what they call "smart" connections in 2018, which is a big leap upwards from the 21 per cent reported in 2013. By smart, Cisco are talking about devices and that have advanced computing/multi-media capabilities and at least 3G connectivity.

In practice this should equate to smartphones, laptops, and tablets driving about 94 per cent of global mobile data traffic by 2018 while machine to machine hardware will represent five percent. Dumphones (more politely known as feature phones) will continue to decline, accounting for 1 percent of global mobile data traffic by 2018.

The rise and rise of wearable computing devices hasn't escaped Cisco's attention either. They predict that the 21.7 million global wearable devices already in existence in 2013 will swell to 176.9 million devices. This according to Cisco will also help to fuel the growth of the Internet of Everything. Wearable devices include things that are worn by people such as smart watches, smart glasses, health and fitness trackers, wearable scanners, all with the capability to communicate via embedded cellular connectivity or by being paired with smart devices via Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

The Growth of 4G

This global stampede to mobile data also has huge consequences for telcos who, with finite wireless spectrum to play with are moving heaven and earth to upgrade to more efficient and faster 4G networks.

By 2018, Cisco predict that 4G connections will support 15 per cent of all connections, up from 2.9 percent in 2013. This translates into a whopping 8 exabytes of total mobile data traffic, up from a still significant 448 petabytes per month in 2013.