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Last week, Cisco released a report entitled, “Hyperconnectivity and the Approaching Zettabyte Era,” one of an interesting set of reports Cisco has made available on this and related topics detailing their findings and projections around consumer behavior, multi-tasking, and network bandwidth requirements.

First question: How big is a zettabyte? Well, let’s start with a gigabyte, which has supplanted the megabyte as the unit we measure hard drives (and even thumb drives) by. A gigabyte is 1,000 megabytes. A terabyte is 1,000 gigabytes.

A zettabyte is 1,000,000,000 (1 billion) terabytes. Cisco is projecting that global IP traffic will exceed two-thirds of a zettabyte in four years.

That’s a lot of information streaming through our cables and over our airwaves. All of this adds up to what Cisco is calling “hyperconnectivity.” We already are witnessing this. Right now, I have a device on my belt syncing my email, my email open on one screen, and this blog open on another. I’m running three bandwidth-intensive applications just sitting here — and more, like Skype, are running in the background, consuming bandwidth.

Cisco has identified four key enablers of hyperconnectivity:

  1. The growing penetration of high-speed broadband
  2. The expansion of digital screen surface area and resolution
  3. The proliferation of network-enabled devices
  4. The increases in the power and speed of computing devices

While we are all familiar with multitasking as a concept, one interesting area of bandwidth growth Cisco delineates is the increase in passive multitasking — recording one show on your DVR while you watch another or sleep; devices that check email while you walk or work; and GPS devices that track you while you drive or hike. All of this additional, almost invisible consumption of bandwidth is increasing as our devices become more integrated into workflows, do more to enable time-shifting, and take on extra roles as companion devices for specific activities.

Cisco also adopts the concept of the “traffic-generating units (TGUs),” a summation of applications, devices, and screens. For instance, a household with two PCs, two TVs, two DVRs, a gaming console, an Apple TV device, a portable gaming device, an MP3 player, a smartphone, and an e-book reader might have 35 TGUs. Cisco states that each PC has 11 traffic-generating applications in regular use, while a smartphone has three.

It’s an interesting study to contemplate, and a reminder of how we will need to acquire new metrics, new ways of measuring and talking about the information space we’re in, and new sources of constraint, investment, and opportunity.

It also reminded my of Adam Bly’s keynote at the SSP Annual Meeting earlier this month, and the importance of a digital core to our work. Bandwidth is scaling. Devices are promulgating. Users are adopting both rapidly. There are benefits being discovered. The speed, flexibility, usability, and time-saving possibilities of the digital future are coming. Publishers have to be part of this, but if our bandwidth continues to be defined by an analog tradition, we may not have the bandwidth to join in.

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Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson is the CEO of RedLink and RedLink Network, a past-President of SSP, and the founder of the Scholarly Kitchen. He has worked as Publisher at AAAS/Science, CEO/Publisher of JBJS, Inc., a publishing executive at the Massachusetts Medical Society, Publishing Director of the New England Journal of Medicine, and Director of Medical Journals at the American Academy of Pediatrics. Opinions on social media or blogs are his own.


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