IP video

Cisco VNI: Make Way for HD & 4K Video

If there were still any doubt that video will increasingly dominate the IP world, Cisco totally blew that away on Tuesday.

In the latest edition of its widely respected Visual Networking Index (VNI) study, Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) forecast that IP video content will make up a whopping 79% of all IP traffic globally by 2018, up from 66% last year. Internet video will lead the way, accounting for 60% of all IP traffic, as the number of online video viewers jumps from 1.2 billion last year to 1.9 billion in 2018. (See Cisco Publishes Latest VNI Report.)

Even more notably, HD video will make up slightly more than half (52%) of IP video traffic in four years, up from 36% in 2012, according to the VNI forecast. Plus, Ultra HD, or 4K, video will make up 11% of IP video traffic by then, up from a mere 0.1% last year, as broadcasters, online video providers, and pay-TV providers all embrace the new H.265 standard for Ultra HD.

Thomas Barnett, director of thought leadership marketing for Cisco's Service Provider group, said Cisco researchers expect to see 4K TV succeed where 3D TV failed because the technical transition from standard HD is not as great, Ultra HD cameras are already out in the field producing 4K programming, and such major video providers as Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX) and DirecTV Group Inc. (NYSE: DTV) are already making major commitments to the new medium. Further, 4K TV doesn't require viewers to buy and wear those goofy, off-putting 3D glasses.

"We think the ramp-up will be pretty significant there," said Barnett, noting that Cisco forecasters expect more than 20% of flat-panel TVs on the market, or more than 200 million sets, to be 4K-capable by 2018. "The infrastructure is in place and the partners are there."

In another notable finding, Cisco believes that wireless broadband networks will carry more IP traffic than fixed networks for the first time by 2018. The latest VNI forecast calls for WiFi and cellular networks to generate 61% of all global IP traffic four years from now, up from 44% in 2013. WiFi alone will account for almost half (49%) of all IP traffic by then, up from 41% last year, as the number of WiFi hotspots around the world soars to 53 million.

At the same time, the PC will give up the throne as the king of IP traffic generation. The new VNI report predicts that such non-PC devices as connected TVs, tablets, and smartphones, which originated one-third (33%) of all IP traffic last year, will produce more than half (57%) of that traffic by 2018. Despite continued traffic growth, the PC's share of the market will drop from 67% last year to 43% four years from now.

Cisco also calls for broadband speeds across the globe to keep climbing steadily. The VNI study forecasts that global broadband speeds will more than double to an average of 42 Mbit/s by 2018, up from 16 Mbit/s at the close of last year. In Japan and South Korea, the world's speed leaders with strong government mandates, the average broadband speeds will approach 100 Mbit/s in four years as those two countries prepare to host the 2018 Winter Olympic Games and 2020 Summer Olympic Games, respectively.

Speaking of huge global sporting events, the VNI report predicts that the FIFA World Cup soccer tournament, slated to kick off Thursday in Brazil, will generate 4.3 exabytes of Internet traffic, thanks in large part to the heavy demand for video coverage of games and highlight clips. That comes to about three times the amount of broadband traffic generated in Brazil over a month.

But even that practically unthinkable figure is peanuts compared to the amount of traffic that Cisco expects the connected world to generate by the time the next World Cup rolls around in another four years. In 2018, the VNI forecast calls for IP traffic to hit 132 exabytes per month, or more than 30 times the traffic that the entire Brazilian World Cup is expected to produce over the next four weeks.

To put that latter number in perspective, 132 exabytes is enough data to stream this year's World Cup final to 8.8 billion video screens showing the game in Ultra HD at the same time. It's also enough data to carry 4.5 trillion YouTube video clips or 940 quadrillion text messages.

Given all these humongous traffic forecasts, the $64 million question is: Can the world's networks handle this incredible load? Barnett insists that they can, with the help of broadband data caps, fair-use plans, and greater capital spending on bigger, faster, more efficient networks.

"I don't expect that networks will break because of this," Barnett said. But, he noted, broadband service providers will certainly "have to think about investing in more fiber" and other network upgrades to keep up with the surging data demands.

That sounds like a real understatement to me.

— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading

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