Mobile vs. Fixed
The Yin and Yang of the telecoms revolution?
We are on the brink of a new era of telecommunications driven by a rush to fibre and an evolution to 5G.
Rush to Fibre
Across the world governments and other political institutions are committing to deliver high capacity broadband connectivity to all. For example the EUs gigabit society targets 100MBps (easily upgradable to 1GBps) to all European households by 2025, at an estimated cost of 156B Euros. In India, the recently agreed National Digital Communications Policy-2018 targets 10Gbps connectivity to all Gram Panchayats by 2022, with each citizen being able to receive at least 50MBps connectivity. Fibre connectivity is the key technology for delivering these huge capacities.
The age of 5G
With 5G we also see a promise to increase mobile broadband speeds to over 1Gbps. However, 5G also promises to provide efficient connectivity for 10s of thousands of IoT devices and to provide a network that is able to provide the ultra-low latency and ultra-high reliability required for new services like autonomous vehicles.
Fibre and mobile – a symbiotic relationship
These evolutions do not exist in isolation from each other, they are in fact symbiotic, and they need each other to succeed.
To deliver 5G, requires a much higher connection density, perhaps 100x more than we have in 4G. And each base station requires ultra-high bandwidth backhaul connectivity. Not only does this connection need to be ultra-high capacity, it also needs to have ultra-low latency, if it is to be used for an ultra-low latency service. Fibre is the obvious way to cost-efficiently deliver this ultra-high capacity, ultra-low latency connectivity. Although, as with 3G and 4G, we will also see some wireless backhaul where fibre connectivity is not cost effective or not viable. In addition, the residential broadband network will continue to be used to provide backhaul for the in-home femto cells used by consumers in poor connection areas.
On the other hand, wireless will play a key role in allowing countries to reach their ‘broadband for all’ targets, with wireless providing a cost-effective, high-capacity connection alternative to fibre for ultra-rural locations. In addition, with 5G we will start to see a lot more fixed wireless access (FWA) being used to provide broadband connectivity. FWA might be used to provide a permanent solution for scenarios where it is just not economically viable to provide fixed connectivity, or it might be used to provide connectivity where the fibre connectivity is planned, but it is not available today.
The move to dynamic flexibility
The transport network itself needs to be more flexible and dynamic than in the past. As already discussed, the access technology may move from FWA to fixed, and the network must seamlessly support this move, without the need to rip and replace or over-build to support the new technology.
However, the end goal is much more ambitious than this, we are looking to reach a point where the fixed and mobile access networks are fully converged and an intelligent service orchestration function is able to select the right access technology to use, on a service instance by service instance basis and even dynamically change the access technology without impacting the service.
In addition to the network dynamically changing, the services it supports are also dynamically changing. Firstly old, current and new services will all co-exist and the network must support all of these, but more importantly the network must be flexible and agile enough to allow the rapid, ubiquitous, introduction of new services. The days of deploying a new network for each new service type are long gone, it is far too expensive and takes far too long. Secondly, the services themselves are becoming more dynamic, with a service being able to change operating parameters, like bandwidth and connection points, in real-time. Where additional connection points are added the service policies must still be met, this might mean changing the reliability or latency to a given connection point. This service dynamism can only be achieved by using a combination of NFV and SDN.
To support the access network evolution, the transport network itself must be both dynamic and multiservice, being able to provide aggregation for all service types and access technologies. It needs to flexibly support 5G mobile backhaul with its needs for network slicing, determinism, reliability and low latency at the same time as providing an agile platform for delivery legacy and state-of-the-art business and residential services. To achieve this, the network must be fully programmable allowing virtualized functionality to place when and where it is required and to allow software defined networking (SDN) to be used to optimize the utilization and performance of the network over time.
If one accepts that fixed and mobile will become the Yin and Yang of telecoms, and that integrated aggregation is required in the transport network to allow these forces to deliver their maximum potential, then it makes sense to plan their evolution together and to provide a transport platform optimized to support this evolution.
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