Tiny Japan will lead a global surge in mobile Internet usage over the next five years, according to a forecast released by Cisco Systems.
The giant networking company predicts that global mobile traffic will increase to 13 times its levels last year through 2017, to about 11.2 exabytes (or about 11 million terabytes) per month. Asia-Pacific countries will account for nearly half of the total in that year.
Cisco, which produces hardware on which data networks are built, made the lofty predictions as part of its "Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast."
"Japan will have a total of 2 percent of the connections in the globe by 2017. However it will be responsible for more than 16 percent of the global traffic," said Doug Webster, a company vice president, at a presentation in Tokyo on Wednesday.
He said Japan's predicted growth rate is remarkable because of the current high usage rate - the country already leads the world in average mobile traffic per user. The country's mobile market is highly saturated, with the number of mobile contracts exceeding the general population, and data use is surging as users switch over to smartphones and tablets.
The explosion in network data use will coincide with a core change in the type of things that are being downloaded and sent by users. The biggest shift will be from the current text and image based Internet to one that is centered on video.
"Traffic will be video-centric, rather than voice or mail-centric. So how we distribute the video efficiently over the network is a very big concern," said Kiyoyuki Tsujimura, who heads the networking subsidiary of NTT DoCoMo, Japan's largest mobile operator. He spoke as part of a panel at the event.
"The fundamental architecture of the network might be different from the era of voice or mail," he said.
Cisco said that so-called "4G" network traffic, such as the LTE (Long-Term Evolution) specification that is emerging as a global standard, will make up a minor number of the total mobile Internet connections, but will account for the bulk of overall data traffic. Cisco says that about 10 percent of total connections will be 4G in 2017, but they will account for 62 percent of total data.
The company predicts that the number of slower 2G connections will continue to gradually increase with time, but their nature will shift to automatically generated traffic from devices like remote sensors and wired machinery. This type of data consumes far less bandwidth than data for users, often packed with bulky images and video.