With demand for network capacity increasing all the time, major efforts are being made to ensure the systems of tomorrow are able to cope with these evolving needs. In the UK, efforts to roll out gigabit-capable broadband are starting to gather pace, while in the longer term, 10G is set to be the future of networking for large enterprises.
But improving network performance isn't just about boosting headline speeds. In fact, this year is also set to see significant attention being paid to a variety of new and evolving technologies that aim to increase the capacity and efficiency of networks around the world.
Some of these were highlighted by chief technology officer for network solutions at CommScope Tom Cloonan in a recent article. Here are three of the key trends that are being tipped to play a major part in transforming networks in the coming years.
Intelligent and automated networks that are able to self-monitor and optimise environments proactively, without manual human intervention, are set to be among the most consequential changes in this sector in the coming years. While technologies for achieving this are still in their relative infancy, Mr Cloonan said they have the potential to fundamentally change how networks are designed and operated.
He noted that at present, one of the biggest demands of network operators is the need for better tools for monitoring networks, identifying and diagnosing issues, and addressing them before they have a chance to impact on service quality.
Intelligent networks that are able to do this effectively will help operators reduce costs, more effectively plan for capacity needs and make better-informed decisions about the best way to evolve their networks, such as identifying when to do node splits or make infrastructure purchases.
Distributed Access Architecture
Mr Cloonan also predicted that 2020 will be a watershed year for the deployment of Distributed Access Architecture (DAA) technology. This is a method of decentralising networks by moving functions that have traditionally taken place at headend or hub to intelligent fibre nodes that are closer to end-users.
This offers a range of advantages in today's demanding environment, where networks will need to cope with high-bandwidth services such as 4K streaming video. In terms of efficiency, it allows for increased capacity, better end-of-line signal quality, higher bitrates and simpler maintenance. It also reduces the power, space and cooling requirements at the headend, thereby reducing operating and capital expenditure.
However, Mr Cloonan noted there are a couple of options available for operators who choose this approach, and at present, service providers are split between the use of Remote-PHY Devices (RPD) and Remote MAC-PHY Devices (RMD). He added that while RMD offers a simpler, lower latency solution, RPD has the advantage of being better able to utilise existing resources in the headend.
Many operators are also expected to adopt network virtualisation technologies in the coming year. Mr Cloonan explained that thanks to advances in distributed processing, open APIs and improvements in server performance, operators can now take advantage of virtualisation to quickly respond to changes in demand.
Already, network management tools have become virtualised to a large extent, while operators are now looking to move more components such as video delivery to virtualised solutions, offloading processing to the cloud. In the coming year or so, Mr Cloonan forecast there will be "steady growth" in areas such as DOCSIS virtualisation.
He added: "What’s becoming increasingly important in [operators'] decision making is how to parse through the broad crop of open source codebases and organisations, especially integration into existing network infrastructure."
As a result, it will be important for deployers to partner with reliable vendors that have access to solutions based on tried and tested code. If firms can make the right choices here, then they will be well-placed to meet the increasing needs of tomorrow's network users.