The future of telecommunications is just as important today as it was when the telephone revolutionized the world. The industry is undergoing a drastic transformation as continued trends toward cloud adoption, mobile communication and big data analytics are driving demand for high-capacity and low-latency bandwidth to meet the needs for these and other emerging applications.
The insatiable demand for video and content streaming is driving infrastructure investments in fiber to increase bandwidth. According to Cisco, video currently accounts for 70 percent of all internet traffic, and that could hit 90 percent by 2020. The need to deliver an optimal experience for users streaming movies, music, news content and more requires speed – and lots of it.
Additionally, the cloud has significantly improved the ability to maximize the effectiveness, resiliency, and redundancy of consumer applications. Public clouds, which typically build redundancy into their infrastructure, can provide a cost-effective way for telecommunications operators to achieve resilience. From a connectivity perspective, we see an increasing number of enterprises adopt dedicated connectivity solutions rather than rely on the public internet. Most customers build diversity into their network architecture as a matter of course. What we’re seeing now is greater adoption of triverse and quadverse connectivity, especially for mission-critical applications.
What’s more, investments in cloud-based RAN (C-RAN) are increasing as wireless network operators continue the path of virtualization. C-RAN offers many advantages such as efficiency, scale, higher utilization of assets and allows for more flexibility in resiliency and redundancy of the infrastructure.
The race towards 5G is well underway with almost all major carriers having announced 5G rollouts or trials. The GSMA estimates that 5G could account for as many as 1.2 billion connections by 2025 – a profound impact on both the mobile industry and its customers.
In response to these and other changes, the “telco edge” is emerging as the new frontier pushing technology and digital innovation forward.
Pushing 5G to the edge
The implications of the roll-out of the 5G network are widespread, and customer expectations of the responsiveness of this network are already huge. Carriers that are delivering 5G service will require new millimeter wave spectrum, new software and more infrastructure, including small cells and multiple-input and multiple-output (MIMO) sites. 5G will also bring a wide range of devices that will have new radio capabilities.
Yet, if the physical infrastructure is not aligned to support new technology demands brought on by 5G, the network will fail. As such, the need for edge computing solutions is going to reach a fever pitch to support new connectivity demands brought on by 5G. The edge will play a key role in unlocking 5G’s speed and low latency in a wide variety of applications. Autonomous vehicles provide a great example for the need to move the processing power close to the sources of data. In the case of self-driving cars, the vehicles will be generating data, and data will also be coming from external sensors monitoring traffic, road conditions and weather in real-time. In this case, the edge may be as close as every thousand feet and/or the car or device itself. Another way to look at it is through the changing dynamics of the cloud-client relationship. Today, we are accustomed to a “Fat Cloud-Thin Client” (think of a cell phone in airplane mode and the lack of functionality…it is basically a really cool calculator without the “connection to the internet”). Now, we are going to have to move, in some edge applications like autonomous vehicles, to a “Thin Cloud – Fat Client” in order for some technologies to fully function 100 percent of the time regardless of whether they are connected to the cloud or not. The car simply cannot perform like the smart phone when the internet connection is lost.
What’s important to remember on the road to 5G is if telecommunications operators set their sights only on 5G and stop planning and anticipating what’s next, they’ll get left behind. It’s critical that they continuously plan, engineer and anticipate future change – for 5G and beyond. To that point, some telecommunications operators are starting to convert their open central office space into regional edge data centers to evolve their business model. By converting empty floor space into an edge computing network, telcos can not only expand their business but provide better service by reducing latency and lowering transmission costs.
Telecommunications operators are on the forefront of another IT revolution – this time driving edge computing and everything it enables forward. Leading providers are transforming their business models and technology infrastructure to prepare for this next-gen evolution; because for many of these emerging technologies to reach their full potential it will require an advanced network infrastructure that can support complex data processing, storage and transport in real time.
Ready or not, the edge is coming to a telco near you.
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