Over the past two years, India has seen a 20x jump in data consumption on mobile phones, and a 4x-5x growth on the home and enterprise fronts. 5G is going to further add to this demand. Content is growing in terms of quality and volume, particularly video content. This existing and expected data surge is significantly transforming the networks of today.
Emerging network technology trends
- At present, microwave backhaul is serving the majority of mobile sites. Around 70 per cent of the sites today are utilising microwave. Going forward, high capacity microwave solutions will be required, which may lead to the opening up of E-band.
- Deeper fibre penetration will be required. Currently, base transceiver station speeds are in the range of 100-200 Mbps. Once these reach 1-10 Gbps, fibre will become a natural backhaul choice. Once 5G kicks in, network speed and capacities will increase by over 100 times. Clearly, ARPUs cannot be increased at the same rate to sustain such speeds. This will call for a fundamental transformation in the way networks are built to achieve 100 times increase in speeds at an incremental cost. The passive infrastructure may remain similar though.
- Growing speeds and capacities are also increasing power consumption at tower sites. This calls for the adoption of new dense electronics that are more power efficient and can pack multiple ports of 100G. In addition, high-processing technologies, which can withstand the harsh climate of India, have to be made available in the most economical way.
- On the aggregation side, optics will be the preferred option as it would ensure scalability up to 800G capacity or even more. But fibre too has to be used very efficiently. There is a need for programmability, which will enable operators to optimally utilise the existing electronics without increasing complexity in terms of logistics and equipment.
- Owing to the capacity scale-up, the need for disaggregation of routers on IP networks has also emerged. There is a need to have one homogenous disaggregated routing solution that can be modularly stacked irrespective of the nature of requirement. Whether it is an access or a core network, the approach should be to scale up. When multiple devices take independent routing decisions, it often results in inefficiencies. Thus, there is a need for central intelligence in the network. A central intelligent engine can look for the optimal path to route the traffic and help in the maximum utilisation of the network.
- Traffic optimisation is another key topic of discussion across the industry. At present, 90 per cent of the content on the internet is carried to a data centre. Peer-to-peer traffic is hardly 1 per cent. So, there is a need to set up data centres very close to where the traffic is being generated. This will help reduce the burden on the backbone.
- The concept of quality of service in IP networks will gradually evolve to a new phenomenon called slicing. An ultra high capacity network will have to perform all tasks across enterprises, homes and services.
Bigger pipes, optic sites and very high density electronics will govern the networks of tomorrow. On the optic side, coherent, pluggable optics will gain traction going forward. The time of electric cables is past. In the future, servers, submarines, data centres, and long-haul, intra-city, inter-rack and even intercell connectivity will be on high speed optics. We are now talking of transmitting petabytes of speed on the fibre pair. There is an increasing trend of packing more in a single optical fibre to reduce costs.
The challenge, however, is that technology is getting complicated day by day, and research and development is getting costlier. And that is the reason that players are consolidating. Also, India may need different technologies from those used in the US and Europe. India faces roughly around 400 times more fibre cuts as compared to the US. Thus, the existing technologies need to be modified by using additional technologies. Software-defined networking is the way to go. These networks are self-defined and self-optimised, and have the intelligence to react to the dynamic needs of radio and core networks. s
Based on a presentation by Deepak Sanghi, Senior Vice-President, Bharti Airtel