The Telecoms Bandwidth Engine - Part 1
The evolution of the telecoms bandwidth engine
We are at the beginning of a technological revolution that will change the way we live our lives. These changes are so deep and far reaching that they will impact all aspects of society, from how and where we work, what we do with our leisure time and how we spend our time with our families. In short, a complete re-organisation of the accepted norms in society.
These huge changes are fuelled by the fusion of rapid advances in three seperate sectors:
- Advances in technology: Advanced computing techniques allied with huge increases in compute power are leading to rapid advances in robotics, IoT devices, DSP, image recognition, nanotechnology, biotechnology, AR/VR and machine learning
- The era of the app: We now see a new paradigm in how applications can be built, delivered and charged for. This huge creativity and innovation has led to the creation of apps that are already changing business and society. For example streamed music has totally changed the way music is consumed, Uber has changed the way we order taxis and social media has changed the way we interact both socially and professionally
- The telecoms bandwidth engine: Ever increasing, ubiquitous, bandwidth is the catalyst which enables the advances in technology to leave the lab and reach society in general.
Advances in each of these fields powered by the bandwith engine are driving an ever re-inforcing wave of change; as bandwidth increases and becomes more ubiquitous, more information can be gathered and linked together which drives further advances in technology, which in turn drives the creation of new applications that make use of these technologies, which in turn drives the need for more bandwidth, and so we start again.
So where did the telecoms bandwidth engine come from?
The bandwidth engine has been underpinned by the rapid evolution of two main components.
- The ubiquity of IP
- High bandwidth connectivity enabled by DWDM transmission across a fibre optical infrastructure
PacketThe origins of ubiquitous IP can be traced back to the early 1980s when TCP/IP was adopted by ARPANET. At that time it seemed that we had as many technologies as we had service types (SDH, PDH, X.25, ISDN, token ring, frame relay, ATM, etc). However, with ARPANETs evolution, IP has evolved to become the single, ubiquitous technology for transferring all data. IP now underpins all new services and applications – to paraphrase JRR Tolkein, IP has become the ‘one ring’.
“IP to rule them all, IP to find them, IP to bring them all together and in the darkness bind them”
Without IP providing a homogeneous service framework it is highly doubtful that apps could be created with the innovation and creativity that we see today. The beauty of IP is that is provides a simple mechanism that allows data to find its own path across the network on a hop-by-hop basis. However this hop-by-hop behaviour led to a number of limitations in terms of scalability and IP/MPLS was introduced to help solve these issues. However, some services require deterministic behaviour and IP/MPLS could not achieve this by itself. Two different approaches emerged and are used to achieve this determisim. MPLS-TP brings the determinism required, but this is at the cost of dynamic behaviour. RSVP-TE allows paths to be engineered across the network, but this is at the cost of scalability. So, very recently we are seeing the introduction of segment routing in conjunction with a path computation element (PCE), this allows deterministic behaviour, where required, without compromising dynamic behaviour where needed.
Similarily WDM systems were being built in labs in the early 1980s and by the mid 1990s we were seeing the first commercial DWDM systems capable of transporting 16 channels at 2.5Gbit/s. With rapid technological advances since then and the intoduction of coherent DWDM, we now see DWDM systems that carry 96 channels at 200Gbit/s – representing a 500 fold increase in capacity in just over 20 years.
One of the problems with DWDM systems is that they have tradtionally been relatively static, nailed-up networks. The introduction of CDC ROADMS (colourless, directionless, contentionless), flex grid and configurable modulation mean these once static networks are now fully programmable, allowing the dynamic behaviour required to support modern services and applications.
The availability of high capacity IP and Optical networks has brought us to where we are today; at the start of the technological revolution described at the start of the blog. However, making these networks intelligent, dynamic and programmable and the service modernization that this enables is what will propel us forwards into full blown societal change.
In the next blog in the series, I will discuss this service modernization, the networking advances required to enable this modernization and how this modernization can lead to major changes in the way in which we will live our lives.