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Bandwidth on Demand – Will it happen?

Wed 25 May 2016

Optical fibers

Bandwidth on Demand (BoD) is much vaulted by providers who are offering to give unheralded control to customers’ bandwidth needs and network services via orchestration portals. Great! Your TV (probably) and smartphone (definitely) do something similar to that already, enabling the user to add services like iPlayer and Spotify at will, or increasing his or her mobile data allowance as required. But what does that mean in the WAN?

Some carriers and some routes have an abundance of fibre waiting to be lit by increasingly more powerful lasers as and when traffic demands rise. In this scenario, some work may still be required to add newer DWDM transponders to extract more bandwidth from the fibre. Probably the incumbent operational support systems mean any physical installation activity is not the slowest or most difficult part of a process that can take weeks. Compare this with the minutes customers are starting to see on their services portals or the seconds taken to install a new smartphone app.

It gets worse when a service provider network spans a number of carriers, some of whom don’t have fibre just waiting there on all their routes. And if the provider is leasing its bandwidth, why would it spend money on capacity which is not fetching revenue?

Today, to keep costs low, many service providers try to run their networks hot to ensure they get a good return on their investment. The turn-up time for augments and new routes is many months because they need to procure the extra capacity, connect it to their equipment then add it to their systems. BoD does not work in this environment. So what’s the answer?

For BoD (and therefore SDN in the core) to work, carriers and service providers need to have already deployed equipment, attached it to terrestrial and undersea fibre, put all this capability in their systems and be able to communicate between each other at a physical, logical and software level.

Rather than responding to market forces in a competitive environment to establish differentiation and leverage, service providers and carriers need to find a way to work together

This will require significant upfront network investment as well as a concerted effort at network systems interoperability with all the standards and agreements that underpin such an arrangement. These technological challenges are not trivial and amount to an industry-wide collaboration to build a globally consistent, locally scalable fibre internetwork.

The commercial challenges are greater. Rather than responding to market forces in a competitive environment to establish differentiation and leverage, service providers and carriers need to find a way to work together with a shared long-term vision that attracts newer, larger, more demanding and more lucrative markets. Or put another way, is it something providers and carriers simply cannot afford to ignore? Without investment in a new way of provisioning network infrastructure, the global economy’s increasingly on-line services, markets and revenue streams become unreachable.

For many years, carriers have tried to turn themselves into service providers and some providers have tried to become more like carriers. Rather than leasing the core network infrastructure component of your services business, it can be attractive longer term to change to ownership economics. Likewise, there is an obvious appeal in trying to monetise network assets by entering new markets.

This morphing of providers and carriers is what has been driving convergence between voice and data networks, leading to developments in service bundles, and challenging traditional entertainment providers. A number of leading global brands have been transforming from telephony to IP to TV! At the heart of each stage of this transformation is fibre (and copper if we’re honest).

So back to the original question, is BoD possible in the core of the network? These new provider/carriers will need to acquire, merge or collaborate to be able to respond to the breadth and depth of varied and changing customer demands in future. Acquisitions tie up capital, mergers tie up management, collaboration might possibly make the best use of the partners at the table.

In the absence of one globally dominant provider/carrier with the sharpest services and the most scalable infrastructure, BoD will drive collaboration and that collaboration will be a new internet of bandwidth, services, clouds and portals. It will be business class, it will be customer driven, it will be vendor agnostic. But it will only be if the industry has vision, patience and money beyond short-term dividend returns.

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feature networking
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