The Whole Next Generation Network Will Feature Ultra-Low Latency

Many observers probably agree that 5G really is about networks that have ultra-low latency and gigabit access speeds. Most would agree 5G is a mobile network implementation of a next-generation network.

What fewer might recognize is that the whole network (WAN, metro and access) is changing. The whole network fabric (across WAN, metro and access) will be based on ultra-low latency and gigabit bandwidth.

The reason is that the next huge wave of revenue growth, apps and services is expected to be based on applications that require ultra-low latency, and sometimes gigabit speeds, though that is the lesser of the requirements for most apps.

Network architectures always directly reflect perceptions of what drives revenue, and the huge bet to be made is that low-latency apps will drive incremental revenue growth, not the traditional mobile or web services consumed by humans on smartphones.

The corollary is that edge computing centers will emerge as a key new part of the networking architecture.

Many decades ago, the architecture of a telecom network, in a single domain, was simple.  

Traffic passed between active switch nodes, within and across across domain boundaries.
The business model was simple: people making phone calls, so the network was optimized for phone calls.

These days, a more-relevant diagram would focus on the packet network, since that now is the way most people interact with “telecom” networks. The core network largely remains the same, with traffic passed between provider domains at a packet network gateways or switches.

The legacy fixed network remains, but most of the revenue now flows over the IP networks (mobility, enterprise communications, video and other internet apps).

Along with new architecture, revenue models have changed. Voice still drives revenue in developing markets, but in developed markets voice and messaging are mature or declining revenue sources. Growth now comes from internet access and video entertainment.

Devices now include phones, but also feature sensors, PCs and tablets.

The more-important change is the separation of control (signaling) and bearer traffic (content, voice, messaging); the separation of transport/access and content sources and the “openness” of the whole network to third party access/traffic.

Technologists call this a separation of control plane (signaling and control) and data plane (bearer traffic, content).

Where once the telecom network was closed, it now is open. Where once the telecom service provider tightly controlled permissible apps and devices, now admission to the network is open to all third parties who comply with the network protocols and provide lawful applications.

What comes next might be different as well. As internet protocol has become the universal next generation protocol, all networks have become computing networks.

And most computing networks now are cloud based, for consumer apps, and for a majority of enterprise apps.

That reliance on cloud computing is predicted to grow in the coming 5G and internet of things era, primarily because many new apps require ultra-low latency.

But something new is coming. Some important cloud-based apps and revenue drivers will require ultra-low latency, meaning centralized cloud computing centers will not work. Instead, computing will have to be done at the edge.

Source: Nokia Bell Labs

That architecture will be built to support new applications and revenue drivers dependent on ultra-low latency (more than bandwidth, even if bandwidth will be in gigabit ranges).


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