Communication network operators are under tremendous pressure to cope with growing traffic demands and unpredictable traffic patterns.
This is punctuated by a seemly endless array of services that are driven by cloud, mobile and video centricity, and customers that seek personalized and self-service capabilities.
At the same time, service revenues remain stagnant, and a growing proportion of service value is concentrated at the ecosystem peripheries with companies like Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Samsung. Effective solutions are needed for operators to bring value-creation back from the ecosystem peripheries to the network.
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Without these solutions, networks will not only become commoditized, but also ineffective in meeting future service demands. This is particularly the case for video services and for broadband metro-networks, which carry over 75% of all traffic.
Bring on the next-gen
To address market demands, network operators need next-generation metro-network architectures to reduce costs, ecosystem complexities and market friction, and to increase revenues, profitability, and operational efficiencies.
These solutions not only depend on advancements in silicon and optical technologies (e.g. coherent optical modulation, Integrated ROADM etc), but must also use network architectures that are inspired by next-generation data center solutions.
These next-generation architectures include open, virtualized network and service platforms which are deployed on commodity hardware (e.g. SDN and NFV), with agile software development regimes, operational automation, and dynamic network capabilities.
However, next-generation metro-networks architectures are disruptive to conventional network designs and operational models, and are challenging for operators to implement.
Automated management and orchestration (MANO) of network infrastructure is essentially mandatory for NFV and SDN based solutions. However, since network architectures will incorporate both next generation and legacy technologies for many years, the automated MANO techniques must cope with hybrid environments, which are difficult to implement and optimize.
As with any new and transformational technology there is a distinction between what is theoretically achievable versus what is realistic for practical operating environments. This creates challenges for operators who must quickly ascertain the limitations of existing technologies, and anticipate the trajectories for technology advancements. Operators must place bets with technology vendors and determine the demarcation between vendor specific platforms, open interfaces and niche solutions.
Perhaps the most significant challenge for operators is the fundamental change to design and operational principles that underpin next generation metro-networks. These changes require a shift from traditional telecom operational models that emphasize the management of complexity, to IT-centric models which depend on the abstraction of complexity with automation.
Because of these challenges, many network operators have deferred network transformation initiatives, and pay lip service to its importance.
This is particularly the case for operators that have yet to embrace IT-centric design and operational principles within their network environments. However, unless they transform, these operators will be at a distinct competitive disadvantage in coming years.
Competition will not only come from transformed network operators. Web platform providers like Amazon and Facebook are also penetrating the edge and core of communication networks with disruptive IT and platform-centric design philosophies that are particularly relevant for video services.
Phil Marshall is founder and chief research officer at Tolaga Research
This article first appeared in Telecom Asia Big Video Insights June 2017 Edition