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Feb 6 (Reuters) - Europe's economic slowdown and the introduction of caps on mobile data usage have slightly damped growth of mobile data traffic despite more mobile users, devices and machine-to-machine connections, according to Cisco Systems .
"The projected 2012 to 2017 global mobile data traffic increase represents a compound annual growth rate of 66 percent," according to Cisco's annual visual networking index forecast published on Tuesday.
A year ago, Cisco forecast that between 2011 and 2016 the amount of mobile data traffic would grow at a compound annual rate of 78 percent.
"It's been a little slower, in particular, in Western Europe. You can't underestimate the economic downturn," said Arielle Sumits, senior manager of marketing at Cisco.
In addition, Cisco's director of service provider marketing, Thomas Barnett, said caps on data usage have had an impact on mobile data traffic as well.
"Three years ago the top 1 percent were generating 50 percent of traffic, today that's only 16 percent," he said.
Carriers began retreating from flat-rate tariffs in an effort to curb unlimited data and ease the strain on overloaded networks.
Nevertheless, by 2017 global mobile data traffic will reach an annual run rate of 134 exabytes per year, the study said.
An exabyte is a unit of information and 134 million exabytes are equivalent to 30 trillion images sent via Instagram for example or 10 images daily from each person on earth for an entire year.
That translates into 11.2 exabytes per month by 2017 compared with 0.9 exabytes per month in 2012.
The Middle East and Africa will see the highest growth rate of data traffic with an annual rate of 77 percent, but almost half of the world's mobile traffic will come from the Asia Pacific region by 2017.
Most of the growth will be generated by smartphones, tablets and laptops but machine-to-machine traffic will rise to 5 percent by 2017, while basic handsets will account for the remaining 2 percent of global mobile data traffic.
Machine-to-machine connections include anything from GPS systems in cars to medical applications.
By 2017 there will by 5.3 million mobile users compared with 4.3 million in 2012 and more than 10 billion mobile-ready devices and connections, Cisco said.