The ubiquitous need for bandwidth in our digital world has driven wired and wireless networks to network convergence. Network convergence is defined as the use of multiple communication modes on a single network that offers convenience and flexibility that are not possible with separate infrastructures. Networks are already moving towards delivering high-speed digital data from a data or processing source, through a high bandwidth or “broadband” network, to a wireless distribution point.
In particular, wireless networks are experiencing rapid growth. Industry research suggests that Asia Pacific (APAC) is on track to becoming the world’s largest 5G region by 2025, led by pioneering markets such as Australia, Japan and South Korea. According to GSMA, 5G will contribute almost US$900 billion to the region’s economy over the next 15 years and mobile operators in Asia will invest almost US$200 billion to upgrade their 4G networks and launch new 5G networks.
The deployments will require new and extensive fibre networks to meet high bandwidth and low latency performance requirements. With converged networks, a service provider can deliver a wider range of services, adopt new business models, innovate new services and enter new markets more efficiently and quickly.
For operators, network convergence offers a plethora of benefits. These include significant savings in the total cost of deployment, simplifying connectivity by using fibre networks to connect everything while having the flexibility to use other modes if necessary, as well as standardising the operator infrastructure for flexibility and future-proofing for new technologies.
Fibre-to-the-Home and 5G Densification
Fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) deployment is rife in APAC, with Singapore ranked by FTTH Council APAC as the region’s top smart fibre city, with 93% of FTTH coverage, 100% 4G coverage and over 10,000 Wi-Fi hotspots. Tokyo and Seoul came in next with 90% of FTTH coverage, followed by Hong Kong, Busan and Melbourne.
Convergence offers a cost-effective answer to developing a fibre-rich FTTH network, as the technology allows large operators to use a single fibre network to support a variety of 5G use cases, thereby maximizing the utilisation rate of assets and extending the return on investment.
The next wireless network architecture evolution is 4G/LTE densification and 5G wireless. This evolution is a convergence of the physical assets of fixed networks and wireless access points.
A traditional cellular network comprises a network of macro cells, each independently powered and interconnected by a backhaul network of varying types, inclusive of fibre, HFC, copper and microwave. Mobile devices rely on macro cells for coverage. While 4G saw an increase in macro cells, 5G and the expected surge in bandwidth demand will require a lot more cells – especially when the higher 5G frequencies that promise faster speeds are constrained by distance. The current norm of using independent, microwave point-to-point (P2P) links will not be enough to keep up with the bandwidth demand, and service providers will need to look into connecting cell sites using fibre instead. This in turn, will create a demand for converged networks.
Network convergence also offers solutions in the future for Radio Access Networks (RAN). The availability of fibre is essential for the implementation of Centralised RAN architectures as it provides the bandwidth, flexibility and scalability to support the continuous evolution of the RAN. Operators with fibre assets will be better positioned to deploy advanced RAN networks and in turn, better serve their customers.
Internet of Things (IoT)
According to Gartner, consumers will invest in more than 20 billion IoT devices by 2020, and one of the main reasons is because they want to save time through automated processes. As consumers increasingly depend on their interconnected devices, network convergence plays an imperative role in helping operators meet the rising demand among consumers for a more connected lifestyle.
The ubiquitous need for bandwidth in the Internet-centric world has driven landline networks, as well as wireless networks, to network convergence. All networks are moving toward delivering high speed digital data from a data or processing source, through a high bandwidth or “broadband” network, to a wireless distribution point and reverse for the upstream. As IoT devices become more valuable in accessing information, the value of a quality network will also increase; therefore, network convergence will ultimately play a major role in rapidly delivering information to consumers.
IoT devices are only as good as the network infrastructure on which they run on. The challenge for operators is to ensure that networks are converged so IoT devices can run quickly and effectively.
Convergence is the way forward, now and in the future
The argument for converged networks is clear. It offers a more attractive option that promises to future-proof the network for 5G and much more. Convergence offers a rational and economically-sound solution for network operators, especially in addressing the rising bandwidth demands and resource constraints as 5G and IoT adoption soars.