Just the other day I brooded on new technologies that are bound to provide extremely fast processing and optical connectivity that can basically transform the all world into a giant distributed computer centre and also a giant distributed data base.
We have just started to tap onto photons capability to transport information
I observed that it would be naive to believe such evolution will be neutral with respect to the Next Generation Networks, NGNs. The new types of communications they will enable and the changing balance between the edges and the core have to have an impact on whatever we are designing and deploying today.
At the same time it is naive to imagine that the hundreds of billions of dollars that will be invested in NGNs in this decade can be forgotten and a new round of investment will take place. Of course, we know that a Next NGN will be deployed in the future but that will be in the Thirties. We are likely to spend this decade building the NGN and the next one in learning to use it.
How would it be possible to take advantage of both the NGN, as it is being deployed today with GPON and LTE (with slight variations here and there, of course), and of the new technology at the edges?
My personal take is that we are going to see a complete flattening of the physical infrastructure to let the edges take full control of the infrastructure capacity. Not a good perspective for Operators, in a way, since this implies a lose of control. On the other hand, we have seen this trend over the last 30 years. When we moved from electromechanical to electronics the hierarchy of the network became less hierarchical. Each switch became empowered of the decision on how to route traffic. Internet has further decreased the need for hierarchy.
The Web2.0 has moved the control of services at the edges of the network and Operation and Maintenance services developed by Operators have been promoting a self deployment and configuration by their main business customers.
Now, imagine we have the NGN: a complete optical infrastructure connecting communications areas. And nothing else. Radio coverage can be seen as a local area network, that uses the optical infrastructure wherever needed. There is no more the concept of a “wireless network”, a wireless is used as a fabric for local connectivity. Whether this is WiFi enhanced, 50 GHz in home network, LTE or ZigBee does not really matter: it is still about providing a cheap, effective, local area connectivity. Once data have to be moved from one area of connectivity, mostly asynchronously (there is so much storage capacity in each local area that most data is locally present) or synchronously (voice is also data, as video streaming, with just some specific requirements on latency and jitter, surely not an issue for an NGN) the local area network(s) will establish the desired virtual pipe to the required local area. In the case of asynchronous communications there will usually be plenty of local areas that can satisfy the request and therefore plenty of alternative virtual connections that can be selected and managed locally. In case of synchronous communications only one local area will satisfy the request but the virtual path to connect the two areas may be set up in many different ways, again negotiated at the edges.
The NGN architecture, once you get enough capacity, does not really matter too much. In the past communications infrastructure architectures were designed for maximum performance given the limited resources available. Now they can be designed for operational cost efficiency sure that performance will keep outpacing demand. On that physical architecture it will be possible to design, dynamically, any specific logical architecture that best fit demands and distribution load.
The NGN being deployed today does not offer sufficient bandwidth to support this scenario but the increase of technology performance will mov the core(s) into hundreds of Tbps and the edges into hundreds of Gbps and that will be enough to have a real flat network of networks. At the current pace of evolution we are talking about 10 years time.
Will the infrastructure owners be willing to have their assets participating in this game or will they maintain control? In absence of competition the answer is obvious, but so it is in presence of competition, and this is what we are going to have, to an even higher degree of what we have today.
So what’s in for telecom Operators? The question rings similar to the one posed by Stage Coach Companies 150 years ago with the advent of railways and then paved roads and trucks and buses. And similarly, the more vehicles moved around the better the roads became. What is good with this similitude is that so much more wealth is available today than 150 years ago and communications was instrumental in that. So communications will be in the coming decades.