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Estimating the Exaflood

The Impact of Video and Rich Media on the Internet. A "zettabyte" by 2015? Original Article

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An upsurge of technological change and a rising tide of new forms of data are working a deep transformation of the Internet’s capabilities and uses. In this third phase of Net evolution, network architectures and commercial business plans reflect the dominance of rich video and media traffic.

From YouTube, IPTV, and high-definition images, to “cloud computing” and ubiquitous mobile cameras—to 3D games, virtual worlds, and photorealistic telepresence—the new wave is swelling into an exaflood of Internet and IP traffic. An exabyte is 10 to the 18th. We estimate that by 2015, U.S. IP traffic could reach an annual total of one zettabyte (1021 bytes), or one million million billion bytes.

We began using the term “exaflood” in 2001 to convey the vast gulf between the total traffic on the nation’s local area networks, then 15 exabytes a month, and the thousandfold smaller flows across the Internet. We predicted then that the deployment of broadband networks would bring exafloods of data to the Net.

Today it is happening. We estimate that in the U.S. by 2015:

  • movie downloads and P2P file sharing could be 100 exabytes
  • video calling and virtual windows could generate 400 exabytes
  • “cloud” computing and remote backup could total 50 exabytes
  • Internet video, gaming, and virtual worlds could produce 200 exabytes
  • non-Internet “IPTV” could reach 100 exabytes, and possibly much more
  • business IP traffic will generate some 100 exabytes
  • other applications (phone, Web, e-mail, photos, music) could be 50 exabytes

The U.S. Internet of 2015 will be at least 50 times larger than it was in 2006. Internet growth at these levels will require a dramatic expansion of bandwidth, storage, and traffic management capabilities in core, edge, metro, and access networks. A recent Nemertes Research study estimates that these changes will entail a total new investment of some $137 billion in the worldwide Internet infrastructure by 2010. In the U.S., currently lagging Asia, the total new network investments will exceed $100 billion by 2012.

Technology remains the key engine of U.S. economic growth and its competitive edge. Policies that encourage investment and innovation in our digital and communications sectors should be among America’s highest national priorities.

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Bret Swanson

Bret Swanson is a Senior Fellow at Seattle's Discovery Institute, where he researches technology and economics and contributes to the Disco-Tech blog. He is currently writing a book on the abundance of the world economy, focusing on the Chinese boom and developing a new concept linking economics and information theory. Swanson writes frequently for the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal on topics ranging from broadband communications to monetary policy.

George Gilder

Senior Fellow and Co-Founder of Discovery Institute
George Gilder  is Chairman of Gilder Publishing LLC, located in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. A co-founder of Discovery Institute, Mr. Gilder is a Senior Fellow of the Center on Wealth, Poverty, and Morality, and also directs Discovery's Technology and Democracy Project. His latest book, Life After Google: The Fall of Big Data and the Rise of the Blockchain Economy(2018), Gilder waves goodbye to today's Internet.  In a rocketing journey into the very near-future, he argues that Silicon Valley, long dominated by a few giants, faces a “great unbundling,” which will disperse computer power and commerce and transform the economy and the Internet.