Cisco has released a comprehensive report forecasting IP traffic up to and including 2018, and estimates global net traffic will triple within five years to a total of 131 exabytes of data per month. More people watching higher quality video would drive the huge increase, it said in its annual data report. This amounts to a million minutes of video crossing the net every second in 2018.

The Cisco Visual Networking Index (VNI) contains estimates of projected IP traffic based on what the company terms "a combination of analyst projections, in-house estimates and forecasts, and direct data collection."

"Today, we are firmly in the 'Zettabyte Era' and witnessing incredible innovations and shifts in the industry," said Cisco VP of products and solutions marketing Doug Webster when announcing the VNI, citing what he called the "Internet of Everything", network mobility, and the onslaught of 4K video as primary drivers of the projected increase in IP traffic.

About 79% of all data in 2018 would be video compared with only 66% at the end of 2013, it said.

It would take an individual about five million years to watch the vast amount of video clips, films, and documentaries crossing global networks every month in 2018.

One exabyte is equal to nearly 1.1 billion gigabytes and represents a vast amount of information. In a comparison for scale, the combined space of all computer hard drives in the world was estimated at approximately 160 exabytes in 2006, and a study carried out by the University of California, Berkeley estimates that all the words ever spoken by humans amount to about five exabytes of information.

The huge amount of data being seen and sent means that for the first time the annual total of data traveling over the net will exceed one zettabyte, according to Cisco.