Back to the Future for Networking

It now is rational to argue that the cost of supplying bandwidth, the amounts of bandwidth offered and the cost of building access networks of very-high bandwidth (gigabits per second, with a business model that works) are improving fast enough that orders of magnitude of new demand can be met with orders of magnitude of new supply, at costs far lower than possible in the past.

It also is rational to argue that roles within the access ecosystem are about to become more  heterogeneous, allowing new actors to supply bandwidth, with new business models.

In large part, past is prologue. Recall that the historic division in networking has been at the demarcation point between the wide area “public network” (telcos, cable, satellite, fixed wireless) and the “inside the building” network (local area networks).

To wit, the WAN has been the place where most customers buy service. The LAN has been the realm of private networks owned by the enterprise, the tenants of a building or owners of a business.

In the coming era of heterogeneous networks, that fundamental distinction will remain. The logical preserve of WAN networks (mobile, fixed, satellite, fixed wireless), while the “indoor” space will largely remain the preserve of end users--consumer and business--who “own” their local networks.

That historic distinction has been harder to envision in the era of mobile communications, as “inside the building” use of mobiles has been a contested space. People expect mobile networks to reach inside buildings, but most people and organizations also realize that is an issues, and have learned to lean on their own networks (Wi-Fi, mostly) to improve data connectivity.

Voice connectivity has been a bit more challenging, but IP voice eventually will fix that problem as well.

New protocols will help, allowing entities to build their own 4G or 5G indoor networks  for boosting mobile performance. Other developments, including shared spectrum, will allow privately-owned inside-the-building networks to support 4G and 5G mobile connectivity.

That will allow new thinking about how internet access and mobility services are supporting inside buildings. But that is simply a return to historic practice, where WAN service providers added greatest value outside the building, while owners and tenants essentially built and operated their own internal networks.

Back to the future, in other words.


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