Throughout time, society has been relentless in the pursuit of growth and productivity. In previous eras, this was powered by the steam engine, by electricity, and by the building of roads. In today’s world, as we march through the 4th Industrial Revolution, this evolution will be fostered by networks – the expansion of the internet, cloud, as well as fixed, mobile, and wireless technologies – what we call critical networks.
Networks for the new normal
More than ever before, networks are now vital. They cannot struggle under the load of new demand. Instead, they must be able to accommodate societies and businesses during the next, connectivity-driven industrial phase. Yet, this is not just an imperative for a far-off future; it must be done now, due in no small part to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
For people, ‘shelter-in-place’, ‘work-from-home’, and ‘remote schooling’ practices – in addition to people generally digitally connecting with each other during the pandemic – have led to a surge in internet traffic. In many of these instances, more people are consuming high-definition video streaming, caused by the concurrent rise in upstream traffic which, due to the greater proliferation of video conferencing and collaboration tools, require connectivity that is significantly lower in latency and higher in bandwidth.
Robust and high-capacity networks are also needed to facilitate the revolution of industries and enterprises operating within them. We are no longer at the beginning of a new industrial era; COVID-19 has shown that we are now in the thick of it. The “Automation of Everything” is already happening and it is being brought about by digital interfaces, data analysis, and control of the physical world via networks.
Automation will catalyse the digital transformation of more physical, asset-intensive industries. This is as significant productivity improvements can be generated by combining advances in information technology (IT) and operations technology (OT) to enable industries to drive closed-loop automation in their physical environments.
This will involve the proliferation of advanced technologies such as the internet of things (IoT), edge computing, artificial intelligence (AI)- and machine learning (ML)-powered deep analytics, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), robotics, remote control, and digital twinning technologies – just to name a few. These innovations will then foster new demands on the network infrastructure, and in many cases, these demands will extend far beyond what has traditionally been acceptable, even for the largest enterprise networks. This means that the capabilities of mission-critical network infrastructures must be expanded greatly.
The 5G difference
As our world’s digital transformation is gaining strong momentum, so too is the 5G race. Revenue from 5G network infrastructures worldwide continues to grow and by 2024, more CSPs are projected to commercialise more 5G services. The next few years will therefore be the bellwether of a decade of 5G innovations that will bring an expanded portfolio of mobile and wireless services to market. For people, 5G will bring broadband performance to mobile devices while industries can realise more wireless applications and industrial IoT to not only drive greater productivity, efficiency, and safety, but also make operations more resilient during unforeseen crises.
To deliver 5G-enabled innovations with agility and flexibility, radio access network (RAN) and mobile core technologies are migrating to cloud-native architectures, in addition to adopting virtualised, comprehensive ‘network slices’ to partition resources as needed. The roadmaps for new 5G capabilities are deep – ranging from immersive experiences and sophisticated video analytics for environmental applications to connected vehicles and eHealth – and will be rolled out over many years. Given that 5G RAN will generate ten times more traffic than 3G and 4G combined, their impacts on IP and optical networks will be profound and, by extension, for the services that will be made possible by next-generation connectivity.
The transformation of networks is at hand
Just like roads that were built centuries ago, quality networks are now core building block of our society and economies. Still, creating and operating modern networking infrastructures – especially those that stand up when we need them most – is highly complex.
To ensure that broadband, and eventually 5G, networks must step up to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow. IP and optical networking systems must provide scalable and assured network performance, robust and secure network infrastructure, efficient and programmable network architecture. Networks that are designed and built around these principles will make them ready to deliver the needed connectivity at any time and no matter the crisis. This is because the network can respond quickly and gracefully, ensuring continuity of relationships, businesses, and life, particularly when they all are being threatened by circumstances we cannot control.
At the end of the day, networks are what keeps us going and will continue to do so. As they become more mission-critical to our daily lives, they must be reimagined for a world that has been irrevocably changed by digitalisation and global crises to help sustain societies and businesses in the future.