Internet Usage Shoots Up 122% Over Past Year: Study

Netflix Still Represents Dominant 33% Share of Peak Downstream Bandwidth, According to Sandvine

Fueled by Netflix and other real-time streaming media, North American Internet users more than doubled the amount of monthly data they consume over wireline networks in the last year -- to the equivalent of 81 hours of video per month, according to a new report.

Mean monthly data usage of fixed-line broadband subscribers in the region increased by 122% from the second half of 2011 to the same period this year, from 23 Gigabytes to 51 GB, according to a report by bandwidth-management equipment vendor Sandvine.

In addition, median average monthly data usage among North America wireline broadband subs grew 190%, from 5.8 GB in the second half of 2011 to 16.8 GB in the same period this year.

“Real-time entertainment continues to soar,” Sandvine CEO Dave Caputo said. “Since 2009, on-demand entertainment [has] consumed more bandwidth than ‘experience later’ bulk transfers, and we project that trend to continue.”

In the U.S., Sandvine projects data traffic will jump about tenfold between 2012 and 2017, when nearly 500 Exabytes (500 billion Gigabytes) per year will traverse wireline networks.

Today Netflix’s over-the-top video service continues to consume a dominant chunk of North American wireline networks, accounting for 33.0% of downstream traffic during peak periods (9 p.m. to 12 a.m.). That’s consistent with usage levels Sandvine measured in the second half of 2011 and the first half of this year.

But while Netflix’s share of traffic has not changed, the growth in total data consumption means that Netflix is continuing to increase the number of bytes it delivers each month.

Other video services on North American fixed networks are relatively tiny, with’s video services accounting for 1.8% of peak-period downstream traffic, followed by Hulu at 1.4% and HBO Go at 0.5%. Over all, real-time entertainment traffic is responsible for 65% of downstream data consumption.

This summer, NBCUniversal’s streaming video for the 2012 London Olympic Games accounted for between 8% and 12% of network traffic each day in the U.S., according to Sandvine.

“While this is a significant amount of traffic, one key consideration to keep in mind is that because of the difference in time zones, most of the streaming occurred outside the traditional peak hours,” the company said in the report. Sandvine predicts that the 2014 World Cup will be the most-streamed event in Internet history.

Over the past year, BitTorrent traffic rose by more than 40%. But the application -- which along with other file-sharing programs were once the bête noire of broadband providers -- continues to lose overall traffic share. BitTorrent declined from 19.2% of peak-period aggregate traffic in 2010 to 12.0% in 2012. By 2015, BitTorrent will shrink to less than 10% of total traffic, Sandvine predicts.

Sandvine, based in Waterloo, Ontario, generated the “Global Internet Phenomena Report 2H2012” report based on data supplied by a subset of its 200 customers, which provide wireline and wireless Internet and data service to hundreds of millions of subscribers worldwide.

According to the vendor, in North America, the top 1% of subscribers who use the most downstream traffic account for 12.8% of downstream bytes, whereas the top percentile on the upstream side account for 38.6% of total upstream traffic. The top 10% of all users account for about half of aggregate traffic, while the lightest 50% of users account for just 5.2% of total monthly traffic.

Some wireline ISPs have already instituted usage caps with overage charges on customers who exceed those, including AT&T and Suddenlink Communications. Comcast and Time Warner Cable are testing the model.

Meanwhile, according to Sandvine, data-usage growth on mobile networks in the past year experienced only minor growth. In the past six months, mean monthly usage increased 1.4%, from 312.8 Megabytes to 317.2 MB. The median usage among mobile users increased more substantially -- by 29%, from 25.5 MB to 32.9 MB -- over the same period.

On mobile data networks, YouTube accounts for 28.0% of aggregate traffic, followed by Web browsing at 14.3%.