The Telecoms Bandwidth Engine - Part 2
The service evolution enabled by the telecoms bandwidth engine
In my previous blog in the series, I explained how advances in packet and optical technologies have provided the ‘bandwidth fuel’ that propels the ‘bandwidth engine’. In this blog, I will discuss how the bandwidth engine enables the service modernization that drives societal change, and how these new services will require a fundamental shift in the way our networks operate.
The need for speed and the rush to fibre
We have seen a rapid rise in the bandwidth offered to both residential and business users. Just 20 years ago all residential and most SME connectivity was either dial-up or narrowband (56K). But this really didn’t matter, as there were very few applications that needed high-speed links. During the early part of the new millennium we saw the introduction and rapid adoption of broadband connectivity. This new high-speed internet connectivity drove a whole set of new industries, centred on making use of this newly available bandwidth. Examples to name just a few include: streamed video and music, online gaming, online shopping, online banking, online gambling, and social media.
Those companies which were able to embrace the new opportunities, have become some of the fastest growing and most well-known companies on the planet. They have totally changed the way we go about our day to day lives, from shopping and leisure time through to banking and even dating! At the same time, this reliable, high-speed connectivity has made home-based working a reality for many in the workforce. This has impacted the way we work, and even how we select where we live.
As “online” applications and services grow, we see the need for ever increasing speeds. The EU, like many countries, has set extremely ambitious bandwidth targets to continue to support, and fuel, this growth. The EU has set a target of providing 100 Mbps connectivity upgradable to 1 Gbps for all European households by 2025. For the vast majority of households this means FTTP, and the likely demise of copper networks.
Unfortunately, the move to an online way of life has its downsides as well. For example it has opened the door for modern criminals, able to steal our data, money and even identities. This has driven the need for networks to introduce ever tighter cyber security mechanisms, with highly complex configurable firewalls now being commonplace in our networks.
The rise of the machine
IoT is, almost completely, at the other end of the scale. IoT is driven by sensors, actuators and new, ‘to be invented’ devices that aim to optimize our worlds. The growth of IoT devices is staggering, by 2020 Gartner predicts an estimated 13 billion connected IoT devices. With IoT we can move virtually any system from being dumb and passive, to active and smart. Smart, active systems can be run far more efficiently than there dumb counterparts, this brings both financial and environment benefits. Smart buildings, smart street lightning, smart metering and smart parking are all examples of this, already being deployed today. And we are starting to see the emergence of smart homes and smart cities, which are combining information from multiple diverse smart subsystems together.
Each of the individual IoT devices themselves does not require much bandwidth, but connecting all of these low speed devices requires new network architectures. However, without wireless access connectivity and packet transport technology, IoT would be impossible. Unfortunately these smart systems make quite an attractive target for hackers and modern-day vandals, so security must be included in any network deployed.
Critical infrastructures become smart
Critical industries like the utilities, transportation and ports have traditionally, and for good reason, been highly risk adverse. With system failure being potentially catastrophic and potentially life threatening. However, we have now reached a point where they all need to modernize rapidly over the next decade. For example: transportation systems (road, rail, etc) need to transport more people, more safely, with improved customer information systems whilst reducing environmental footprint. Electricity firms need to embrace the move from centralized power generation to decentralized power generation from renewable sources. At the same time, they must put an infrastructure in place to support the massive projected growth of electric vehicles.
The only way for them to achieve this is to embrace IoT, packet technologies, and become ‘smart’. But in doing so packet networks must remain highly resilient and deterministic, hence the need for MPLS-TP today and segment routing with PCE when it becomes field proven. Again, security is paramount, with hackers on an industrial scale and/or country sponsored hackers looking to infiltrate these systems. Encryption, physical and virtual fencing, and anomaly detection, all become key in any network deployment.
Mobile comes of age – 5G
5G represents the point at which mobile stops just being about mobile data (and telephony?) and becomes a full blown universal service delivery platform. 5G services, and service needs, have been discussed widely in virtually every article you read these days, so I won’t dwell on them here.
However in terms of networking a true paradigm shift is required if 5G is going to deliver on its potential of being a universal service delivery platform. The only way of delivering such a huge range of services with such varying parameters and policies is network slicing. In other words ‘to slice’ the network into multiple virtual networks and then allocate a mix of virtual network functions (VNFs) and physical network functions (PNFs) to each virtual network. To maximise efficiency, allocation of resources must be dynamic, supplying resources when and where required and then removing them when they are no longer required. All of this will require true SDN control of the network driven by intent driven orchestrators, as manual intervention is just not quick enough.
The transport network, whilst initially architected for current mobile generations, should ultimately become the ubiquitous, next generation transport architecture, supporting fixed services, residential and business, IoT, critical industries and more.
We have begun the journey towards societal change – maybe even the 4th industrial evolution. Over the next decade this rate of change will only accelerate as 5G, Gigabit broadband and IoT, all become commonplace. By 2025 we will have people entering the workforce for whom high-speed broadband is the norm and for whom virtual and augmented realities are a commonplace tool. The ability of this new workforce to feel totally at home with new technologies, seamlessly stepping between real, virtual and augmented realities, as required, to perform complex work functions can only further accelerate the rate of change in the later half of the decade. Which will in turn will further drive the need for higher capacities and more advanced networking.
However, like all societal change, while many of the advances will be for the betterment of society in general, there will also be some issues. And some elements of society will definitely be losers, at least in the short-term, unless there is regulatory and/or governmental intervention. For example: with each major technical advancement over the last 20 years, the digital divide has widened. And now, for the first time, individuals without access to new, high-bandwidth driven services are at real risk of being severely disadvantaged: educationally, in-health care, in the workplace and at home. I will look at the positive and negative aspects of the telecoms bandwidth engine in my final blog in the series.