The amount of Digital Data globally is growing rapidly, the way in which we interact with information is ever evolving and how we create data is being driven by innovation – we are immersed in a digital world with the line between reality and virtual/augmented reality becoming increasingly blurred.

The total amount of digital data we have created is hard to quantify but if you extrapolate a study conducted by IDC Research, this reached approximately 8.8 Zettabytes (ZB) in 2015 [1]. This equates to a ludicrous 9.6 trillion Gigabytes (GB) – to try and put this in perspective let’s assume all the digital data we have created is stored on a series of 64GB iPhone 6’s. If stacked on top of each other the height of this monolithic tower would be over 1 million kilometres! Alternatively, try and picture 2.6 million Empire State Buildings on top of each other. This is expected to grow to an astronomical 44 ZB[2] by 2020, and at that point our monument to Steve Jobs is absurd. And to think that’s expected to more than quadruple by 2025…

If these estimates are to be believed – bearing in mind we have powered through most historic forecasts – then by 2020 humans will be creating ~132 billion GB of new data every day. What’s driving this you may wonder? Well it’s a plethora of interlinked variables and I’ll just touch on a few of the key contributors:

Video streaming: the rise of websites like YouTube and video-on-demand services such as Netflix has seen data usage sky rocket – every minute Netflix subscribers stream 86,805 hours of video and YouTube users share 400 hours of new videos[3]. Each file is also estimated to use 20-100x more storage than traditional video.

Smartphones & Smart Devices: Smartphones allow the user to easily access data consuming applications such as Google Maps and Spotify. Users are also able to share their high definition videos and photos instantly to Instagram, Facebook, via email etc. – 216,000 photos are shared in Facebook’s messenger application every minute2! Additionally, internet enabled devices are expected to increase from 4.9b in 2015 to anywhere between 20.8b – 50.1b[4] by 2020.

It may also interest you to know that your smartphone is packed with sensors, from barometers to heart rate monitors. These are “of course” only there to enhance your experience, however, if you were to couple the GPS capability with the phone’s accelerometer, it is possible to track your location over the past year or so – a company made headlines in 2012 for doing just that to unsuspecting individuals.


Network Speed: From 3G to 4G and now to 4G LTE (Long Term Evolution), as the speed of your mobile connection increases so too does the amount of data you consume – estimates suggest that 4G LTE users consume 6x more data than those on 3G[5]. 5G is expected to roll out in 2020 and its theoretical maximum speed is 10x that of 4G LTE. As consumers demand for data increases, so too does their expectation of the speed at which they can download it, that then leads to an increase in data consumption, it is self-perpetuating.

Cloud: This would have to be the biggest buzz word in tech. The cloud has many facets and can be anything from a simple storage system through to a virtual operating system – in fact pretty much all of the new internet enabled devices we discussed earlier will have some interaction with the cloud. Businesses have harnessed the significant benefits of operating within a cloud based environment and many have or are in the process of migrating their systems into the cloud.

Where is this all being stored? In the cloud? Well the cloud is supported by powerful servers most of which are held in highly secure, spaceship like facilities called data centres and it is within such facilities that the vast majority of the world’s data sits.

A more perplexing question is, will we have the ability to store the tidal wave of information that we as consumers and businesses are creating? This is a polarising topic and in all honesty it is impossible to know. There are some exciting innovations in digital storage the epitome of which is DNA-based storage systems, however the possibility of this being a commercially viable option in the near term are slim to none.

As a consumer, immerse yourself in the technology and embrace the innovation, just don’t be surprised if one day your phone lights up with the following message:

Roland Houghton


Disclosure of interest: Milford Funds Ltd holds shares in Alphabet (previously known as Google) and Facebook on behalf of clients.

Disclaimer: This is intended to provide general information only. It does not take into account your investment needs or personal circumstances and so is not intended to be viewed as investment or financial advice. Should you require financial advice you should always speak to an Authorised Financial Adviser.

[1] IDC: The Digital Universe of Opportunities

[2] Cisco: The Zettabyte Era—Trends and Analysis

[3] Domo: Data Never Sleeps 4.0

[4] Statista: Internet of Things (IoT) & Gartner: Press Release on connected devices

[5] BroadGroup Consulting: Independent Market Research Report – Keppel DC Reit