Next-gen Transport for MSOs: From Cable to Cloud
Cable networks need to satisfy increased bandwidth demand and connection quality requirements to support upcoming two-way interactive video conferencing, cloud gaming and AR/VR gaming services. Additionally, 5G requires MSOs to build low latency and low jitter transport, using precision timing mechanisms.
At the same time, they need to do all this efficiently, and keep the network scalable for future demands. The good news is that technologies to support this network transformation are available and are constantly improving.
In the third of this four-part blog series, GlobalData’s Emir Halilovic considers how changes to the MSO service portfolio in a post COVID-19 crisis market reflect on their transport network design and deployment.
The COVID-19 pandemic has served as a major accelerator of trends already visible in broadband services – the demand for bandwidth has spiked, and traffic patterns have changed. Residential broadband, considered a best-effort class of service, has become a key facilitator for work-related activities, a necessary enabler of e-health services, and a channel for obtaining everyday necessities.
And although the current pandemic and crisis response will not last indefinitely, the trends it has brought or accelerated will continue to affect customers’ demand for the foreseeable future:
- The line between residential and business services will blur further: many companies in verticals where homeworking is feasible have experienced little to no disruption to their operations as their workforce became homebound almost overnight. The “new normal” will therefore have to count with many more homeworkers, and associated traffic patterns. If in the past residential broadband experienced peaks in the evening, homeworking will drive increased traffic during daytime as well.
- Broadband will carry much more two-way video: in applications from video conferencing and remote learning, to e-health.
- Additionally, the demands of 5G networks will start to play a significant role in MSOs’ network planning and rollouts, as major mobile operators’ demand for mobile transport wholesale services increases in line with 5G deployments taking pace.
Although seemingly diverse, all these trends have one thing in common – a very strong cloud component that will play a key role in defining future MSOs’ transport architecture. Cloud services are not confined to mega data centers anymore – rather, they’re moving closer to clients. This goes for content and gaming, which is spurring increased investment into edge cloud; 5G C-RAN, requiring cloud instances in multiple layers across the network physical footprint; and MSO’s own infrastructures, which become much more cloud-like with architectures like DAA.
With their network infrastructure increasingly looking like a widely distributed data center, MSOs will need to re-architect their transport networks into programmable, secure, multi-tenant environments, capable of satisfying the needs of both MSOs themselves, but increasingly of wholesale clients and, eventually, webscales that need to get closer to the client.
The set of capabilities this new transport network needs to have can be summarized into a few major sets of requirements:
- Capacity and scalability: Transport networks’ capacity demand will grow significantly in the future, and as the recent COVID-19 epidemic has shown, capacity demands can increase abruptly and unpredictably. Future transport networks will need to satisfy this growing capacity demand, but also should – ideally – be flexible enough to allow for quick scaling and bandwidth reassignment.
- Programmability: Future MSO transport networks need to be highly automated, to satisfy not only the needs of MSOs themselves, but also the needs of wholesale clients, which are running highly programmable 5G and cloud environments themselves. Service provisioning demands within the transport network will come from multiple sides, and often will feature much more frequent change demands, usually coming from highly automated systems. Therefore, the transport network will need to be itself automated, to be able to react to these service demands quickly enough.
- Openness: Related to the programmability, transport networks will also need to be easily “consumable”, both for different network domains within the MSO organization, and for wholesale clients. This translates into the need for open APIs and common data models across the transport infrastructure, removing the friction from service provisioning cycles. Lower overheads and associated costs are an added benefit.
- Security and resiliency: Increased multi-tenancy and criticality of transport networks means that security and resiliency need to be increased exponentially. Traffic isolation, encryption, redundancy, and protection, coupled with sophisticated security management are a must.
As cable MSO operations continue their crucial mission of providing connectivity to large groups of customers, the transformative impact of cloud on the network is beginning to be the most important determinative factor driving the transport network development. Cable MSOs transport network plans need to look beyond the immediate horizon of increased capacity, and qualitatively expand their networks’ capabilities. This will not only bring higher customer satisfaction, but can open new revenue opportunities, and expand the already existing ones.
In the next blog in this series, Emir Halilovic will discuss some of the trends in cable MSO architecture evolution, and the implications of this transformation on transport networks.