Over the years, the capacity of our fixed network connections has grown exponentially – from a typical 4K dial-up modem at the dawn of the Internet era, through basic broadband and xDSL connections, to a world where 1GB fibre to the premises (FTTP) connections are becoming commonplace. That is a remarkable growth in connection capacity.
At the same time, business and consumer customers are hungry for more - for more data, more speed, and more of just about everything else. It’s a mistake to confuse that desire for more with the availability of bandwidth. Unfortunately, this capacity growth has not been matched in terms of transport network capabilities. We would suggest that we don’t just need a bigger, faster pipes.
If we look at the mobile network infrastructure, the situation is mediocre. Today, the rush is on to deploy really high capacity, high speed 5G networks. Yet these are largely non-stand-alone networks, where the 5G radio path makes use of the existing transport network infrastructure. In practice, that means these 5G networks can’t currently provide all the services that 5G technology can deliver.
Rolling out new business or consumer services in telecommunications, isn’t quite the same as replacing an old-fashioned light bulb, with an energy saving or LED bulb. Those new bulbs all operate perfectly on the same electrical network. But are network operators looking to deploy new services relying on outdated network technology to deliver them?
The lightbulb moment for the telecommunications industry is the realisation that operators trying to meet that customer demand using previous generation transport networks have one hand tied behind their back. They simply don’t have the right mix of tools, processes or network capabilities to support advanced services and modern business models. Fundamentally, current transport networks take a static approach to carrying traffic; they lack the capabilities and dynamism to enable features such as traffic prioritisation, service assurance and differential pricing to be accurately configured, measured and guaranteed.
Providing a 10GB FTTP connection is almost worthless if the transport network cannot identify the types of services you are using; isolate the ones that require priority; and guarantee to meet incredibly precise service levels. Think of it, when it comes to 5G networks and services such as autonomous cars or remote surgery, it’s not going to be enough for an operator to hit 99 per cent of the SLA. A guaranteed service level for autonomous car functions has to be just that – guaranteed in every respect: Availability, bandwidth, speed, latency and any other measurement.
Service providers need to ensure their networks are built to assure all types of services whether they require super low latency, or super high availability. They must be deterministic while remaining dynamic. And let’s not forget those security issues, which will only skyrocket with 5G. To do this requires investment in improved network management systems, in routing efficiency, network optimization, timing, synchronization, automation and service assurance. It involves taking a holistic view of the entire critical infrastructure and investing in the core elements that will underpin the new services.
This is the heart of the matter. A superfast network, with smart edge devices needs an intelligent core. Without that, much of the service innovation of which the industry is rightly proud, and the accompanying return on network investment, will remain out of reach. Investment in capacity without an accompanying investment in network capabilities will leave the industry, and its customers, still groping for the light switch.
Sigal Biran-Nagar is Sr. Director of Corporate Marketing at ECI. Sigal comes to ECI with a strong record of marketing, strategy and communications for both global and local conglomerates.