What’s Using All the Bandwidth?


From the living room to the board room, bandwidth has become a major concern for just about everyone online. With more than 2.4 billion people using the Internet for everything from basic surfing and email to online classes to gaming, bandwidth is a critical resource for modern business, learning and entertainment.

At its most basic, bandwidth is the total amount of information that can flow through the various rivers, streams and other tributaries of the Internet; it’s not a measure of speed, but of capacity. In the early days of the Internet, this bandwidth was dedicated primarily to education and research, but with the birth of a truly commercial Internet in 1995, bandwidth limitations became a much more serious issue as the public began to explore the Information Superhighway. As applications expanded beyond research and communication into multimedia and entertainment, demand for additional throughput began to grow exponentially.

Today, entertainment and social media account for the lion’s share of bandwidth consumption. Streaming video giant Netflix accounts for more than a third of total bandwidth usage in North America during peak hours, and the combined tweets, Facebook posts and other social media output of active users make up almost 30% of all social media bandwidth use. And with peak usage outgrowing normal Internet usage by nearly ten percent, Internet traffic is likely to breach the “zettabyte threshold” sometime in 2015 (a zettabyte is equivalent to 1,000 exabytes, or one million one-terabyte hard drives).

The increasing importance of mobile computing has also altered our demand for bandwidth. As of 2013, nearly one in three website visits were made from mobile devices. Using social media, shopping online, or even participating in an online class can all be done from today’s powerful tablets and smartphones, and with millions of Internet-enabled games, utilities, and multimedia applications demanding their share of traffic, it’s no wonder that mobile Internet use is projected to outstrip PC use by mid-2014.

With a world of zettabytes and always-on mobile devices just around the corner, one thing’s for sure: as more and more entertainment, business and educational content moves from the physical realm to the Internet, the demand for bandwidth—and devices ready to use it—will only increase.

Bandwidth Use

What Is Using All the Bandwidth?

Internet data usage in the U.S. alone grew by 120% from 2011 to 2012. With IP traffic growing at an approximate rate of 23% annualy, it’s estimated that there will be more than 19 billion global network connections by 2017. We are consuming more data now than ever before, and we’re not slowing down.

We’ve taken a look at how much bandwidth is available to meet our Internet surfing needs and how it’s being used by users around the globe.

Bandwidth Use

According to TeleGeography, international bandwidth availability has soared over the years from:

  • 2002 – 1.4 terabytes per second
  • 2006 – 6.7 terabytes per second
  • 2012 – 92.1 terabytes per second
  • 2020 – 607 terabytes per second

Globally, the average fixed broadband speed grew 30% from 2011 to 2012:

  • 2011 – 8.7 Mbps
  • 2012 – 11.3 Mbps
  • 2017 – 39 Mbps

In 2012, there were 2.3 billion internet users worldwide — about 32% of the world’s 7.2 billion population.

By 2017, there will be about 3.6 billion internet users — more than 48% of the world’s projected population (7.6 billion).

Cisco predicts global IP traffic will reach 1.0 zettabytes per year (83.8 exabytes per month) in 2015 and 1.4 zettabytes per year (120.6 exabytes per month) in 2017.

How much is a Zettabyte exactly?

  • 1000 exabytes = 1zb
  • 1000 petabytes = 1eb
  • 1000 terabytes = 1pb
  • 1000 gigabytes = 1tb
  • 1000 megabytes = 1gb

Peak Usage Times

Research has shown that peak internet usage (busy hour for internet use) ranges from around 9 P.M. to 12 A.M.

Busy hour traffic is predicted to increase 3.5x by 2017, while average internet traffic will increase 3x, reaching 65 Terabytes in 2017, the equivalent of 720 million people streaming a high-definition video continuously.

How Bandwidth Is Being Used

49% of all IP traffic will originate with non-PC devices by 2017, compared to 26% in 2012.

Traffic from wireless and mobile devices will exceed traffic from wired devices by 2016.

Video and audio streaming applications will account for over 60% of mobile usage in the U.S. by 2018.

  • PC – 14%
  • TVs – 24%
  • Tablets – 104%
  • Mobile – 79%
  • Machine to machine – 82%

Video Streaming

According to Sandvine, real-time entertainment (comprised of streaming video and audio) is the largest traffic category on virtually every network globally.

65% of all web traffic during peak hours is devoted to streaming services.

Global Internet video traffic:

  • 2017 – 69%
  • 2012 – 57%

Global network users will generate 3 trillion internet videos per month, or 6 million years of videos per month, or 1.2 million video minutes every second.

It would take an individual over 5 million years to watch the amount of video that will cross global IP networks each month in 2017.

Netflix accounts for 33% of all streaming traffic during peak hours in North America, seeing a 35% increase in traffic year over year.

Other streaming services shy in comparison:

  • Amazon – 1.8%
  • Hulu – 1.4%
  • HBO Go – 0.5%

YouTube’s usage accounted for 17.1% of 2012 downstream internet traffic in the U.S., up from 13.8% in 2011.

YouTube is the dominant application on mobile networks in the U.S., accounting for 27% of all mobile traffic during the peak period.

Social Media Use

Are social media users taking up all the company’s bandwidth?

According to a Palo Alto Networks Inc. survey of companies across the globe, social networks and file sharing services only use about 1.62% of total company network bandwidth.

Active social media users took up 28% of network bandwidth used on social sites in 2015, a 9% increase over 6 months.

  • Facebook usage in May 2012 accounted for 37% of all social network traffic, a decline from 54% in November 2011.
  • More than 50% of the companies surveyed had employees playing Zynga Inc. games on Facebook, using about 5% of social-networking bandwidth.
  • Twitter used 21% of social network traffic in May 2012, up from 11% 6 months prior.
  • Tumblr represented 10% of social network traffic.

57% of the companies surveyed had workers who were spending some time trading film clips and games on a site called MegaUpload.

Other Data Hogs

Pandora Radio leads for audio streaming on mobile devices.

Pandora’s share of downstream traffic over a 24-hour period in the U.S. (3.62%) is actually higher than during peak period (3.35%).

35% of all internet downloads are pornographic.

The average time spent on a pornographic site is between 15 and 20 minutes.

Streaming porn at a low resolution of 480×200 uses around 100 kilobytes per second, which over 15 minutes is around 90 megabytes.

One of the most popular pornography websites hosts over 100TB of porn and serves more than 100 million page views per day, equating to an average of 950 terabytes of data transferred per day.

Another popular site sees 350 million monthly visits. At 90 megabytes per visit, that’s 29 petabytes of data transferred every month, or 50 gigabytes per second.


  • Internet data usage jumps; Netflix makes up one-third of bandwidth use – articles.washingtonpost.com
  • Netflix Video Puts Even More Strain on the Internet – variety.com
  • Bandwidth explosion: As Internet use soars, can bottlenecks be averted? – arstechnica.com
  • Cisco Visual Networking Index: Forecast and Methodology, 2014-2019 – cisco.com
  • Cisco’s Visual Networking Index Forecast Projects Nearly Half the World’s Population Will Be Connected to the Internet by 2017 – newsroom.cisco.com
  • Employees hogging bandwidth on social media work – dailyherald.com
  • Application Usage And Threat Report – Jun 2014 – paloaltonetworks.com
  • Twitter usage is up, and so is frustration, when it comes to workplace social networking – digitaltrends.com
  • Just how big are porn sites? – extremetech.com
  • 15 Things You Need To Know About Internet Porn – businessinsider.com

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