The latest installment of Cisco's Visual Networking Index predicts that operators are about to get hit by a veritable tsunami of mobile data traffic.

Cisco says worldwide mobile data traffic will see a 26-fold increase between 2010 and 2015 as the use of smartphones, tablets and the consumption for mobile video drive data consumption. Wireless subscribers will use 6.3 exabytes of data per month at an annual run rate of 75 exabytes by 2015 – the equivalent of 19 billion DVDs, 536 quadrillion SMS text messages or 75 times the amount mobile and fixed global IP traffic generated in 2000.

"This mobile data traffic is really taking on a life of its own," says Doug Webster, a communications director at Cisco. "Overall, mobile data traffic growing 4.2 times faster than fixed."

Not surprisingly, mobile video is forecast to be a major driver of data consumption. Cisco predicts that mobile video will make up two-thirds of all wireless data traffic by 2015 as more subscribers use smartphones and tablets to access the Internet. More than 5.6 billion people will use cell phones by 2015 and 1.5 billion M2M devices to be on the market by 2015.

The rise of high-end wireless devices is also a major contributor to data usage. Smartphones, laptops and other high-end wireless devices will drive more than 87 percent of all global mobile traffic by 2015. The amount of traffic generated by tablets in 2015, 248 petabytes per month, is set to outpace the entire amount of global mobile data traffic generated last year, which averaged 237 petabytes per month in 2010. The same will be true of M2M traffic, which will reach 295 petabytes per month in 2015.

The faster speeds offered by recently upgraded networks is also helping to drive consumption because subscribers use more data when Internet connections are faster, says Cisco marketing manager Thomas Barnett. The average mobile network connection speed doubled from 2009 to 2010 and is expected to increase 10-fold by 2015.

Today, the average mobile connection generates 65 MB of traffic per month, the equivalent of about 15 MP3 files. By 2015, the average mobile connection is anticipated to generate more than 17 times that amount to a total 1,118 MB of traffic per month, the equivalent of about 260 MP3 files.

"There seems to be a direct correlation with the traffic growth and the network connection speeds," Barnett says.

Emerging markets that have recently moved to faster wireless technologies are seeing the greatest increase in mobile data traffic. The Middle East, Africa, Latin America and India are the top growth markets in Cisco's Visual Networking Index, with Europe, the Asia-Pacific region, North America and Japan coming in as runners-up.