Can packet change its spots?
Why we need to evolve to deterministic, low latency packet
In my previous blog I discussed how packet enabled services and applications have evolved to touch every element of our lives. However, I believe we are just at the start of a packet enabled revolution with changes so profound, it will result in the widespread societal transformation that characterizes an industrial revolution.This industrial revolution is being driven by multiple forces;
- Firstly - the access networks now offer huge capacity; fiber to the home brings near unlimited bandwidth to the fixed network (up to 1Gbit/s) and 5G brings ultra-high bandwidth unleashing applications from the home and the office
- Secondly - Service and application developers and companies are in abundance, waiting to monetize the increased network capacity.
- Thirdly – Packet provides a ubiquitous, agile, scalable transport medium making it really simple for new applications to make use of the near unlimited bandwidth
The services and applications we already see, span across every element of society; entertainment, media, education, healthcare, lifestyle, business, transportation, utilities, government and defence – to name just a few. And what makes these advances so compelling is that people are willing to pay, quite often substantial amounts, to enjoy the benefits they perceive these new services and applications bring.
Impact of COVID-19
It is my belief that the lockdown imposed across many countries to tackle COVID-19, will accelerate this revolution. People and companies now realise we can live our lives very differently, and once the genie is out of the bottle, it will be very difficult to put back. I will just pick-out some obvious example:
- With working from home being successful for many industries, what is the long-term impact on companies that try to revert to the traditional 5-day week in the office?
- With huge sales of home exercise equipment, what is the impact on the leisure centre market? Especially when much of this home exercise equipment, like Peloton, is able integrate lifestyle, social interaction, gaming with the exercise.
- With people across all generations deploying and being forced to learn unified communication services for education, socializing and talking to their family, Microsoft’s Teams deployment up almost 800%, and everyone knows what house party and zoom are, is this finally the end of the plain old telephony services?
- With peoples fear of travelling to the doctors surgery or A&E, what would the uptake of remote health care applications be, it they were widely available?
- With the massive reduction in air pollution we have seen, shouldn’t we try to reduce travel?
At this point, I should say my hat goes off to the Service Providers, network operators and MSOs that have managed to keep networks and services operational during this time. It has quite literally been career, sanity and life-saving to many.
Lessons we learnt will also accelerate the revolution
But not everything was perfect, we have lessons to learn if we are to keep pace with momentum building behind the impending societal revolution.
Firstly, consumers and governments now understand the social and economic value of ultra-high speed broadband and will be willing to reprioritize spend to enable them to increase the speed of their broadband network. And upstream bandwidth becomes as important as these networks involve more and more video content moving from the consumer back to the network. Hence high capacity access rollout plans need to be accelerated to support this pent-up demand.
But for these new services capacity is just the table stakes, they require a next generation deterministic packet transport network that provides:
- Ultra-low latency:
- For shooters in online games, low latency can literally mean life or death (of their avatar), hence they are willing to pay for low latency
- As AR and VR become common place, low latency and low packet delay variation is key for to avoid motion sickness
- Guaranteed, high-availability
- During the last few weeks, although frustrating, we have been able to put up with service failures, however as we move to the new normal, failure or buffering in the middle of realtime, paid for online services will be totally unacceptable. With today’s social media, networks with poor service quality will quickly be known to the various communities of interest, especially as realtime services like Pelton, Zwift, pay-per-view sports can cost the consumer more than their broadband connectivity
- Healthcare services like remote diagnosis will rely on high-quality, high-capacity, always-up connectivity
- Easily configurable service prioritization (per User per Service QOS)
- I think most of us now wish it would be straightforward to configure our home networks to prioritize some services and users over others. (Yes I know you can do this today manually on your router today – but it is hardly straightforward for the average person)
This determinism and its associated guarantees on latency, latency variation, availability and per service QoS becomes the driving or limiting factor on the speed of new service introduction.
Fortunately over the last 4 or 5 years there has been huge innovation in the packet transport space to prepare for the introduction of 5G. This next generation packet transport network is achieved by combining a number of technological advances:
- Software defined networking (SDN), path computation element (PCE) and segment routing (SR-TE) together provide deterministic packet transport. This is achieved by separating the IP control plane from the data plane, allowing paths across the network to calculated centrally in the PCE.
- Network slicing, virtualization and dynamic bandwidth allocation together allow a single network to support multiple different service types, even if each service type has dramatically different service requirements. This is achieved by treating the network as a single resource pool, for each service type a network slice is created by selecting and instantiating a set of resources (virtual and physical) and dynamically connecting them together to meet the service delivery parameters.(i.e. one slice might provide ultra-low latency, another might provide ultra-high availability, etc)
With this next generation packet transport network we have the transport toolset that is required for new services and applications to totally transform the way we live our lives.
In my opinion we are, at the tipping point in this industrial revolution. Those companies that grasp and embrace “the new virtualized normal” will thrive and those that fail to learn will fade away.