- Network operators facing pressure from bandwidth-hungry devices
- Throwing more bandwidth at the problem is not a long-term solution
MORE and more devices are being hooked up to cellular networks, while corporations and consumers are demanding instantaneous response – welcome to the future of the Internet of Things (IoT), where operators are faced with a bandwidth crunch.
This is playing havoc with all parts of operators’ networks, according to Kyle Hollasch, director of product marketing for optical networking at Nokia Networks.
This includes their radio access network (RAN); and their metro/ aggregation (including backhaul) and also their long-haul/ core networks, he says, speaking to Digital News Asia (DNA) via email.
The backhaul refers to the intermediate links between the core or backbone network and the small networks at the “edge” of the entire hierarchical network, or the side of the network that communicates with the Internet.
Metro/aggregation networks refer to the network core that provides various services to customers.
Thus far, network operators have accommodated bandwidth demand with a centralised RAN framework, according to Hollasch.
“Wireless operators are beginning to adopt centralised RAN architectures (CRAN), where the processing of the subscriber radio signals (baseband processing) is decoupled from the cell-site antenna and is instead transported to a central location responsible for processing and aggregating the traffic of multiple cell sites,” he says.
This means that rather than processing signals onsite at the cell station, the signal is processed at a central location, allowing for more efficient use of resources.
“A CRAN architecture enables more efficient use of spectrum by coordinating spectral resources across multiple cell sites, and also facilitates the further densification of networks by the proliferation of small cells,” says Hollasch.
“The technology that makes CRAN architectures economically and technically feasible is referred to as Fronthaul, and this consists of compact, low-power wavelength division multiplexing (WDM) components specifically optimised to carry sensitive wireless signals from the antenna to the centralised baseband processing unit,” he adds.
It is not like operators are resting on their network laurels either: Some have already begun the migration to 100G (100 gigabit-per-second) in their core or long-haul networks, according to Hollasch.
“As 100G technology and solutions mature, they are becoming sufficiently compact, power-efficient, and low-cost enough to be adopted in metro networks, where space and power are at a premium,” he says.
This is helped by low upfront costs and pay-as-you-grow architectures, he adds.
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As the world gears up for the IoT, operators have to retool their networks as well, to handle and sustain operations when devices are sending and receiving data constantly.
“Over the past several years, the adoption of applications demanding network dynamism – such as cloud computing, social media, and live video – have driven operators to prioritise flexibility and programmability throughout all layers of their networks,” says Hollasch (pic).
“However, while overall traffic continues to increase, it is evolving from human-to-human, to human-to-machine, to machine-to-machine generated demand, requiring new levels of dynamism.
“As the backbone which carries both the IP (Internet Protocol) infrastructure as well as business transport services, the optical layer is critical to this network transformation,” he argues.
Optical networks are now evolving to help network operators cope with these demands.
“Over the past several years, optical networks have evolved from relatively static systems requiring manual intervention and days or weeks of lead time in order to add or reconfigure transport services – to highly flexible, dynamic systems capable of instantly responding to shifting network demands,” says Hollasch.
But the technologies that can see this through are still in their infancy, in terms of both capability and adoption, he admits.
Mo’ bandwidth mo’ problems
Hollasch also cautions against just throwing more bandwidth at the problem, because such a strategy cannot be sustained over the long term.
“The problem is that the bandwidth of optical networking systems is finite,” he says.
“In 1948, Claude Shannon, working at Bell Labs, proved that there is a fundamental limit to the quantity of information that can be transmitted over a given communications channel,” he adds, referring to the ‘father of information theory.’
This finite limit is quickly being reached, and advances are harder to come by, he argues.
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