Nobody Knows What the Cost Structure of a Modern Network Will be in 10 Years

You cannot assume the cost of building a high-performance Internet access network is going to be the same, in 10 years, as it is today. How much different is the only issue. Some trends are easy to identify.

The cost of supplying a gigabit connection on a 5G network likely will be lower than on a fixed fiber to the home network, and possibly lower than a cable TV hybrid fiber coax connection.

But that is not all that will change. Google Project Loon is testing entirely new platforms for Internet access, using fleets of balloons. Both Google and Facebook are testing use of unmanned aerial vehicles. New fleets of low earth orbit satellites will change the cost of delivering Internet data by satellite.

Fixed wireless technology being developed by Facebook, Google and others such as Starry  likely will change that cost curve as well.

And that is not all. An effort to develop standards-based and open telecom platforms is underway by the Facebook-initiated Telecom Infra Project that has gained important support from mobile and fixed telcos and many equipment suppliers.

Followng on the heels of Facebook’s Open Compute Project (OCP) to create open standards for data centers, the Telecom Infra Project now seeks similar results for access platforms.

“A few years ago, Facebook was faced with a data center problem familiar to many scale companies: We depended on proprietary systems and hardware that were inflexible and expensive,” said Jay Parikh, Facebook Global Head of Engineering and Infrastructure. “We realized quickly that this approach would not be sustainable; we needed to find a new way.”

Note the language: traditional rack and stack approaches were “unsustainable.”

The end result, for Facebook, was that “we were able to...save billions of dollars in infrastructure costs over the last few years,” Parikh said. The obvious winner was Facebook and its users. The obvious losers were suppliers of traditional data center gear.

“We recognized that telecom infrastructure could benefit from the same innovations taking place in the data center,” Parikh said. So make note: the winners will be Internet access providers. The losers will include many suppliers of network platforms, or whole lines of equipment and software platforms.

“It was clear that the raw building blocks of what we were developing for our own infrastructure could be applied to telecom networks with great benefit,” he said.

The Telecom Infra Project “ is bringing together operators, infrastructure providers, system integrators, and other industry players to work together to develop new technologies and rethink approaches to deploying network architecture.”

Early founding members include Intel and Nokia, Deutsche Telekom and SK Telecom.

At first, “TIP will focus on disaggregating the components of network infrastructure that are traditionally bundled together and vendor-specific,” said Parikh.

TIP members will work across three areas: access, backhaul, and core network management.

As one early example, Facebook has been working in partnership with Globe, deploying a low-cost, solar-powered network-in-a-box solution, bringing mobile coverage to a village. “In the first week alone, we connected more than 60 percent of the community,” said Parikh.

New members include Axiata Digital, Indosat, MTN Group, Telefonica, Vodafone, Acacia, ADVA, BlueStream, Broadcom, Coriant, Deloitte, Juniper Networks, and Lumentum.

The TIP Board of Directors includes Dr. Alex Choi of SK Telecom (TIP Chairman), Axel Clauberg of Deutsche Telekom AG, Ashish Kelkar of Facebook (TIP Secretary and Treasurer), Lynn Comp of Intel, and Henri Tervonen of Nokia.

Project groups also have been created to address “the most pressing industry needs including connecting the unconnected or underserved populations, and augmenting the development of powerful new technologies like 5G.”

The access system integration and site optimization group is chaired by SK Telecom

The unbundled solutions group is co-chaired by SK Telecom and Nokia, and will seek cost-effective, low-power and low-maintenance solutions.

Media-friendly solutions, chaired by Intel, will focus on mobile experience, especially for close-to-edge solutions.

In the backhaul area, Facebook heads the effort to develop “thin and extensible software stack to autonomously coordinate routing, addressing and security related functions in packet-switched IPv6 networks.”

The open optical packet transport project is co-chaired by Facebook and Equinix, and is working on Dense Wavelength Division Multiplexing (DWDM) open packet transport architectures that avoid supplier lock-in.

The core network optimization project is chaired by Intel, and seeks to disaggregate
core network components.

The greenfield telecom networks group is co-chaired by Nokia, Facebook and Deutsche Telekom, and will work on IT-based network architecture.

If and when those solutions emerge as commercial realities, we must assume the cost structure of networks will be lower. So all current assumptions about business models will have to be revised as well.
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