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Minnesota Internet Traffic Studies (MINTS)

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Possible further slowdown in wireline traffic growth, continued (and possibly unsustainable) growth in wireless data traffic

Arbor Networks, which has access to some data from around a hundred ISPs around the world, reported that "intercarrier traffic grew an average of 30-40 percent per ISP last year (a less than 10 percent slow-down from previous year)" GigaOm account of Arbor Networks presentation.

Cogent, in the conference call with financial analysts about fourth quarter 2008 results, reported 25% growth in traffic that quarter, but only 30% growth compared to the fourth quarter of 2007, meaning that there was practically no traffic growth in the first three quarters of 2008. Cogent 4Q2008 earnings call transcript.

CRTC, the Canadian telecom regulator, is conducting an investigation on net neutrality. As part of the proceedings, it has collected extensive data from Canadian ISPs about their traffic volumes and traffic management policies. Most of the detailed information was provided to the CRTC in confidence, but the CRTC has released some anonymized aggregate information. In particular, straight averaging of the growth rates for the 7 ISPs shows that while the growth rate in 2006 as compared to 2005 was 53%, in 2007 it slipped to 44%, and in 2008 even further, to 32%. CRTC redacted and anonymized high-level ISP data.

TELUS, one of the Canadian ISPs in the CRTC proceedings, has made far more data available to the public than the others, icnluding total volumes, average per-subscriber volumes, and "heavy user" volumes. zip file of TELUS filings.

While the CRTC data show Canadian growth rates are now down to the 30% per year range (similar to those of Cogent for 2008, for Japan for the last few years, above the 10% for Hong Kong, and at the lower end of the range reported by Arbor Networks), other places report higher rates. There is as yet no sign of the global economic turmoil affecting Internet traffic growth, and overall, it appears that wireline growth is still around 50% per year.

Wireless data appears to be booming. A recent study from Cisco Jan. 2009 Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update predicts 131% annual growth rate for wireless data from 2008 to 2013. The worldwide volume of mobile data, as estimated by Cisco for 2008, amounts to 33 PB/month, which is around 0.5% of the volume of wireline Internet traffic. Both the growth rate and the total volume of the Cisco study are consistent with the data provided by TELUS for 2008. zip file of TELUS filings.

Even with the vigorous growth rates predicted by Cisco, wireless data will not have any noticeable impact on Internet backbones for a long time. The mismatch is capacity just too great. But there is a serious question of whether even 100% annual growth rates in wireless traffic can be sustained for long on the radio side. Some other predictions from the industry for growth rates are more modest, see for example the discussion by Hank Kafka, Vice President, Network Architecture, AT&T. Kafka presentation deck, January 2009.