AS demand for fast, wide-reaching and low-latency broadband continues to grow across the globe, network operators are looking to increase capacity and speed on their existing networks like never before.
In our discussions with network operators, the following themes arise: the focus on broadband and service expansion at the network edge and the role of cloud in the network. As network operators continue to explore these issues, they are laser-focused on creating networks that could adapt in the long term to meet immediate capacity demands.
Race to increase capacity
Data and bandwidth consumption across the globe is growing at an exponential rate. By 2025, global data volume is expected to reach more than 180 zettabytes — almost triple compared to the staggering 64 zettabytes of data created, captured, copied and consumed in 2020. In 2022, worldwide bandwidth usage surpassed 1,200 Tbit/s, with the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region leading the pack at almost 550 Tbit/s.
In APAC, the race to increase capacity is spurred on by enterprise digital transformation, with spending on digital technology expected to grow 3.5 times the economy in 2023. The increased spending on digital technology inevitably comes from a growing need for fast, high-capacity connectivity to support and fuel our digital lifestyles.
This increased focus on digital transformation is happening alongside the emergence of more immersive technologies that use artificial intelligence (AI) across various industries. From smart manufacturing to med health, these new technologies and applications require more bandwidth than ever.
Additionally, as hybrid work arrangements continue for businesses across the region and world, there is also a need for fast, high-capacity connectivity beyond metropolitan areas.
As a result, network operators are taking note of the changing landscape of connectivity and updating their offerings to meet customer demands. For example, Australian network operator Telstra recently worked with Ciena to implement 400G wavelength service upgrades on routes between Adelaide, Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney and Brisbane, with additional 400G routes coming next year. And, as end-user needs and expectations continue to shift, network operators will continue to explore options that allow them to offer an even wider range of reliable, high-capacity services.
Investment in the edge is key
One such area that network operators are looking into is the network edge, especially as the demand for connectivity beyond metropolitan areas continues to grow. Today, shifts in enterprise and residential application consumption necessitate changes in how connectivity is delivered — and that is where edge networking helps to fill the gap.
Edge networking is essentially a distributed cloud model that brings computation and data storage as close to the point of request (the user) as possible — ensuring that devices have the same access to bandwidth and low-latency connectivity, even if they are not in close proximity to the data center. In today’s age of hybrid working, this means that users have access to the same fast, reliable connectivity working from home as they would if they were working inside an office building located in the metropolitan area and closer to data centers.
Edge networking may also be the key toward delivering connectivity to non-urban or rural areas, helping to bridge the digital divide. For countries like the Philippines, where internet awareness and usage are high despite slower connectivity in rural areas, edge networking infrastructure could be leveraged to bring faster and higher-capacity connectivity to remote areas.
The edge of the network is large and elaborate, and given the complexity and scale involved, deployment of edge networking will not happen overnight. However, the likelihood of long-term first-mover advantages is high for network operators keen to take advantage of edge networking now. In a world where demand for connectivity is no longer concentrated within metropolitan areas, network operators are taking steps to capitalize on the many opportunities that edge networking could bring to their customers.
Supercharging through cloud
Another avenue that operators are focused on is the role of the cloud and cloud applications.
Generally speaking, software-defined cloud infrastructure tends to offer more resilience and adaptability, allowing operators to add services quickly, respond faster to changes in network demand, and manage central and decentralized resources more efficiently. As more enterprises expect connectivity that they can easily upgrade, manage and secure, network operators are looking into how elements of the cloud could be incorporated into their networks to allow them to meet these consumer demands in real time.
End-user devices need a “mean time to cloud” that falls between 5 and 15 milliseconds for truly immersive experiences, particularly in Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality (AR/VR) or some Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning (AI/ML) contexts. Some of that time is spent in the air interface — in transport, in security processes and in cloud processing. When you work through the physics involved, this means that the first computing instance needs to be within 75-150 kilometers of the end-user.
Ultimately, network operators are the ones who have the capability and infrastructure to support that proximity — and they have the opportunity to monetize it. Operators could capitalize on the proximity they have to the end-user while incorporating elements of cloud networking to supercharge the capacity, speed and security of their network.
Building flexibility, adaptability
The connectivity landscape is at a crossroads; as more people across the world move online, there is an exponential demand for connectivity like never before. Now, network operators are more willing to look beyond typical network planning trajectories and consider the possibility that capacity needs may not just double or triple but jump ten- or even hundred-fold. This means that many operators are exploring options that they might not have had before in a bid to bolster their networks to meet the exponential demand that is expected to come.
Indeed, demand is growing at a rate never seen before. Many are now faced with the challenge of meeting these needs and delivering comprehensive connectivity solutions. Spurred on by this, operators are looking to new frontiers previously unexplored, such as edge and cloud networking. At the same time, they want their networks to remain flexible and programmable, as there is less inclination to completely revamp and replace them each time there is a demand for more capacity.
As demand for fast, low-latency bandwidth shows no signs of slowing down, it’s crucial that operators turn to adaptable and open solutions that make it easier for them to upgrade and meet consumer needs — not just for today, but for the future.
Madhusudan Pandya is the senior advisor for International Market Development at Ciena, a global developer and solutions provider in optical and routing systems, services and automation software.