Cisco just published research that will worry network admins

The company’s annual Visual Networking Index Forecast shows mobile data consumption will push some organizations’ capacity to the breaking point


Smart phones, tablets and phablets battling for bandwidth against a multitude of smart watches, Google Glasses as well as refrigerators and microwave ovens communicating among themselves via the Internet – this is the picture that came to mind when I read Cisco System Inc.’s latest Visual Networking Index Forecast.

Nothing new here, you might say, since other networking device vendors and many analyst firms have been talking up the rise in mobile traffic. However, the message is clear: Mapping out a realistic network capacity plan has never been more important, and some network administrators may have to deal with it sooner than they expected.

Cisco predicts that mobile data traffic in Canada is expected to increase from 28.6 petabytes a month last year, to 246.8 PB a month by 2018 – that’s a 762 per cent increase within four years. Much of that traffic will still be coming from mobile handsets which continue to grow into more powerful data hogs.

The average smart phone connection speed in Canada last year was 10,777 kilobits per second (Kbps), up 85 per cent from 5,824 Kbps in 2012. In 2013, the average smart phone generated 1,067 megabytes of mobile data per month, up from 728 megabytes per month for the previous year.

M2M traffic in Canada will reach 19.3 PB per month by 2018, according to Cisco. In the next four years, as much as 32 per cent of device connections will be attributed to M2M modules, with the average module generating about 804 megabytes of data per month.

“I think this report shows that mobile data consumption and demand are not being slowed down by how much people have to pay for it,” says Mark Kummer, senior vice-president, service providers at Cisco. “…In general, the trend is pointing towards increasing complexity in managing the network.”

IT departments should start working with business leaders to get a sense of how mobile use will grow in their organization in the next five years so that they can plan for to future demands.

Some organizations have the resources to simply scale up network capacity to meet this growing demand. However, there are other alternatives that will allow budget constrained businesses to effectively provision network resources while delivering the mobile experience that their users need.

For example, network administrators can start boosting their network’s offloading capability. Offloading on-premise mobile data traffic from cellular networks to less expensive Wi-Fi networks, will help cut costs.

Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst for ZK Research a consulting firm that specializes in unified communications, suggests organizations plan for “densification of wireless capabilities” in order to make Wi-Fi signals available to more devices.

This is also the time to consider investing in software defined networking technology to ease the management of growing networks, Cisco says. By separating network services from vendor devices, SDN enables network administrators to more rapidly configure and provision applications that they would with traditional “hard wired” connections.

Adopting 802.11ac standard or 5G Wi-Fi, will also prepare networks for the growing mobile traffic. The older 802.11n standard, which operates in the 2.4GHz band, often suffers interference from Bluetooth headsets and other Wi-Fi devices. The new standard operates in the 5GHz band, a less congested spectrum that provides faster data rates and wider coverage with fewer dead spots.

Finally, companies should revisit or develop better mobile device usage policies. Organizations should look towards striking a balance between capacity control, data and security requirements and users’ needs. If your company sees mobility as a strategic tool, your policy should aim to enable, rather than hamstring, users.

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