Historically, the media has done a very poor job of explaining science and technology. Before major news outlets apply a sensationalist slant to the reports, we’ll let you in on the details of the (slight) slowing of Internet traffic growth. Following 2011, when average international Internet traffic grew by 39 percent and peak traffic by a whopping 57 percent, these figures dropped in 2012 to 35 and 33 percent, respectively. The days of triple-digit growth rates are over, except for some developing countries. What’s the deal, and what does it mean?
Research firms such as Gartner, eMarketer, Forrester Research, and TeleGeography all attribute the slowed growth of capacity and traffic to several factors:
fewer new broadband accounts in the more mature markets;
the advent of content delivery networks (CDNs); and
local caching schemes that, like the cache in your iMac, will store desired content close by, reducing need for capacity and bandwidth.
Time and timing
It’s also a matter of time. Researchers at eMarketer predict time spent online to grow by a mere 3.6 percent in 2013 to an average of 2 hours, 53 minutes daily. In 2011, daily time spent online had grown over twice as much, 7.7 percent, to 2 hours, 47 minutes. Since time spent online is up to nearly three hours, double-digit growth rates are decreasingly likely. This is true even if consumers increase the number of activities and spend additional time with either their MacBook Pro or their desktop PC. Time spent online cannot increase forever.
Even with the CDNs and caching methods, service providers will be investing great sums in network architecture and infrastructure. Despite some of the “big-picture” numbers dropping, traffic volume per user in the advanced markets is up—thanks to movie lovers, tablet PCs with WiFi, music aficionados, gamers, and multi-tab conversationalists using video-calling and group meeting apps. And, of course, the many different developing markets with below-average broadband penetration offer room for growth.
Mobile’s where the action is
Estimates from eMarketer and others suggest American consumers have doubled the time spent on mobile devices—for internet browsing, online app use, game playing, music, video—since 2011. The growth guesstimate for 2013, not counting strictly “talk time,” is some 50+ percent to an average of 1 hour, 22 minutes daily, nearly 2.5 times as much as 2010. The challenge for business owners, as opposed to consumers, is to ensure that employees use smartphones, Xserve RAID units, and even inkjet cartridges in the most cost-effective manner. (Watch for a blog on “office efficiencies” soon.)
Mobile growth will continue, meaning the decreasing online presence of the standard corporate PC or computer rental, laptops, net-connected “smart” TVs, game consoles, and other non-mobile net devices (though they may grow slowly). Mobile, on the other hand, has exploded from a small base, with growth in time spent online goosed by swift acceptance of smartphones, tablets, and our own iPad rental. Still used by a minority of netizens, these devices will proliferate, current users will transfer digital activities to their mobile space, and (voila!) mobile will suck up an ever-increasing amount of consumer time—while putting the brakes on faster online traffic growth. Or will it? We’ll just have to keep an eye on things and let you know.
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