Editor’s note: Today’s story about growing bandwidth demand across North Carolina marks the launch of a new section within WRAL Tech Wire’s growing menu of section topics: The Broadband Report. Watch for special features each Monday – and for breaking news throughout the coming year. We welcome your input. Send story ideas to WRAL Tech Wire Editor Rick Smith (rsmith@wral.com).

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Fast broadband is rumbling on big data’s horizons while big bandwidth is necessary to spur innovation and productivity. And, that bandwidth should not be a scarce commodity in North Carolina.

More devices, anywhere/anytime access, more users, health care, video, and the growth of Wi-Fi are just some of the reasons why a record level of data will soon be flowing through IP networks in the state and nationwide.

And, this is just the beginning.

According to recent research, for every one percentage point increase in broadband penetration in North Carolina, employment is projected to increase by 0.2 to 0.3 percent per year. For every $1 million granted for broadband development, 15 jobs would be created.

At the national scale, the Internet generally employs 1.2 million people directly for a total of 3.05 million jobs. The dollar value of their wages alone is about $300 billion, or 2 percent of U.S. GDP.

Community Anchor Institutions in North Carolina such as schools, libraries, health care facilities, and public safety offices are annually increasing their use of bandwidth.

All 58 community colleges in the state have doubled their Internet traffic in one year. Also, North Carolina K-12 schools have quintupled their bandwidth use in the last three years, and 36 school districts in particular have required upgrades of their circuit bandwidth (mainly supplied by TimeWarner Cable, AT&T and CenturyLink, with another 15 or so expected to do so this coming year) because of increased use during the same time period.

Big data is changing the world; but not without big broadband.

Every day, we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data – so much that 90 percent of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone. An estimated one-third of the world’s population is now online. More users, more devices that connect to networks, and more data-heavy services are now riding over the pipes.

Cisco’s annual examination of Internet traffic trends has revealed some truly alarming numbers.

According to the global networking giant, worldwide Internet traffic will reach 1.3 zettabytes by 2016, and the increase in 2015 to 2016 alone (330 exabytes) will equal all the IP traffic generated last year (369 exabytes). (For context, one zettabyte is equal to one trillion gigabytes.)

According to Edward D. Paradise, vice president for Cisco’s Global Government Solutions Group and RTP Site Executive, Internet video is one reason for the tremendous data spike, which is projected to be 62 percent of consumer Internet traffic by 2015. He also noted that the number of devices connected to IP networks will be twice as high as the global population three years from now.

“A robust and intelligent network is essential to keeping up with the exponentially increasing demand for access by students, consumers, businesses, and organizations in North Carolina and across the world,” he explained.

Edward J. Macko, director and CTO of IBM’s Healthcare & Life Sciences Solutions, also explained that broadband will serve as the underlying infrastructure for the health information technology that continues to grow at great pace and has the potential to improve health care outcomes and control costs; highlighting the current broadband expansion of the North Carolina Research and Education Network by MCNC called the Golden LEAF Rural Broadband Initiative.

“The potential impact of this project on our region’s health care system can be tremendous,” he said. “From helping address health care disparities in rural areas to addressing the growing physician shortage, this investment comes at a pivotal time in the transformation of our region’s and nation’s health care system.”

Health care, for example, reportedly has seen a 20 percent decrease in patient mortality by being able to analyze streaming patient data. Other industry sectors such as telcos have seen a 92 percent decrease in processing time by being able to better analyze networking and call center data. Utilities also have reported 99 percent improved accuracy in placing power generation resources by analyzing 2.8 petabytes of untapped data.

However, the ability to analyze this much data quickly requires a network infrastructure that can handle it.

Again citing Cisco’s recent report, the level of traffic growth will be driven by a number of factors, including:

1. An increasing number of devices: Tablets, mobile phones, and other smart devices as well as machine-to-machine (M2M) connections are driving up the demand for connectivity. By 2016, it is projected that there will be nearly 18.9 billion network connections – almost 2.5 connections for each person on earth – compared with 10.3 billion in 2011.

2. More Internet users: The United Nations estimates that there will be 3.4 billion Internet users by 2016. That is about 45 percent of the world’s projected population four years from now.

3. Faster broadband speeds: The average fixed broadband speed is expected to increase from about 9 megabits per second (Mbps) in 2011 to 34 Mbps in 2016.

4. More video: Four years from now, 1.2 million video minutes – the equivalent of 833 days – would travel the Internet every second.

5. Wi-Fi growth: By 2016, over half of the world’s Internet traffic is expected to come from Wi-Fi and mobile 4G and future wireless last-mile connections. This wireless broadband traffic will require significant fiber capacity for transport, access, and backhaul.

Organizations in North Carolina like MCNC were able to leverage federal funding through the Broadband Technology Opportunity Program (BTOP) a few years ago and are looking to harness big data as a game-changing asset by building out a network on NCREN that promotes public/private partnerships instead of competition.

“MCNC is a nonprofit, or to put it another way, we are a sustainable public benefit organization,” said MCNC President and CEO Joe Freddoso.

Freddoso explained that MCNC meets its mission by leveraging NCREN and the expanded BTOP fiber to create value for others; whether they are students using the network for academic or research pursuits, or private-sector broadband and application providers using BTOP fiber to reach more consumers and businesses with better services.

“Once we complete the BTOP network in early 2013, there will be tremendous opportunities for private-sector providers to serve areas off the network with more robust service,” Freddoso added. “There will also be opportunities for private-sector service providers to provide NCREN connectors with value added services, applications, and tools on the network. NCREN is the state’s big data network and will help North Carolina thrive in this age of big data.”

Again, the ability to analyze and chock all this forthcoming data requires a network infrastructure that can handle it. The model of embracing public/private partnerships to scale networks like NCREN may just be the answer to support what many expect is coming sooner than later.