Speeding up from just being ‘Connected’ to having ‘Fast Internet Access’


This article was published in Voice & Data  on November 22, 2021. You can read the original article here  

The upcoming year is a crucial time for telecom and connectivity operators to rethink their strategy, work around a winning formula to meet emerging network requirements in the private and public sector, and be prepared to deliver the much-needed wave of internet value. The Indian connectivity market presents large opportunities for both basic and sophisticated internet needs within rural and premium segments alike. But for the telecom sector to succeed with these opportunities, they need to iron out some important infrastructural creases.

According to Gartner, Indian government organizations, both local and national, will increase spending on all segments of IT in 2022, except for telecom services. As India prepares itself for the 5G rollout, the telecom market requires high investment to make an impact on innovation, quality of services to citizens, and effective pricing. As per a report by PwC, an estimated investment of USD 14 billion dollars is required to enable 70 percent of 5G fiberization levels over the coming three years. But the current growth mechanics and stressed cash flows may hinder these required investments from taking the fast lane. This has positioned investment priority in telecom services lower when compared to the other segments in 2022.

Why is it important to solve the connectivity equation?

The increasing adoption of data-driven ICT technologies and cloud computing by businesses is elevating the demand for better connectivity service standards. On one end, data consumption in India is growing enormously across the business, fintech, healthcare, IT, Data Analytics, OTT, and other sectors. This growing data consumption is creating the need for internet connectivity that comes with high bandwidth, improved servicing, real-time and remote support, prompt upkeep, and enhanced data security, in order to support high-quality industry operations and delivery.

While on the other end are operators that are unable to commit to an efficient and resilient network offering due to restrained investment, capacity constraints due to rapid growth, and lack of differentiated industry solutions. As a result of which, organizations and end-users have to set up connectivity with multiple operators and bear increased costs only to sail through with a compromised internet speed.

The NITI Aayog Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) India Index 2020-2021 report revealed that out of every 100 people, only 55 have an internet connection, improving from last year’s 49 in every 100. In terms of mobile connections, 84 in every 100 had one, though this metric was better in last year’s report, wherein 88 in every 100 had a mobile connection. Yet, just having an internet connection does not mean that the user has uninterrupted access to fast internet.

Telcos’ metric for residential broadband speed is the published throughput speed of the last mile of a connection, i.e., the speed at which a customer’s circuit connects to the edge of their internet service provider’s network. This parameter ignores key factors like network oversubscription, which leads to many users competing for the same bandwidth and resulting in reduced speed.

A data consumption rate that was already traveling with lightning speed, was further pushed by the pandemic as it presented additional internet requirements in the form of workplace collaboration tools, video conferencing, and distance learning tools. It was a challenge for telcos to tackle this rise in demand during a crisis, and as more users are added by the minute, the capacity between the access network and content delivery networks (CDNs) is reduced, slowing down the overall network.

So how do we solve the connectivity equation after all? If increasing broadband capacity is the answer, it is easier said than done. Fortunately, there is a way out to resolve the telecom industry’s looming problem despite the lack of funding and high operating costs.

Network disaggregation – steadily future-proofing the industry

Traditionally, carriers built their networks using rigid systems that combined software and hardware networking equipment from a single vendor or source. In addition to creating a monopoly and withholding competitive growth, this trapped telcos’ into long-term investments with the same vendor and forced them to remain stuck in a vicious cycle of slow and expensive hardware replacement. In simple words, disaggregation breaks this chain for the first time.

Network disaggregation is the practice of deploying network software separately from the hardware. By detaching these functional components of a network from each other it empowers telcos with the flexibility of upgrading from obsolete connectivity structures. Disaggregated systems can replace many functions within a telco’s network, from core and edge routers to Broadband Network Gateways. Using this independence, they can evaluate and install the best-in-class hardware and software equipment to offer increased agility and scale in the long-term and deliver on the promise of fast broadband at lower expenditures.

How does it work

This shift from inflexible to automated network systems has been enabled by high-volume, low-cost and transformational networking chips known as ‘merchant silicon. These chips can be used to build a new category of powerful low-cost ‘bare-metal’ switches, which are often constructed on the very same outsourced assembly lines that manufacture traditional router systems.

These switches cost a fraction of the price of conventional telco switches and routers but are equally powerful. Alongside this ground-breaking hardware, a new generation of networking software has emerged, that can re-build bare-metal switches into the highly-featured IP/MPLS switches used in broadband networks.

An advanced and disaggregated IP/MPLS network can reduce ownership costs to less than half and bring more value than any other approach today. Disaggregated hardware and software can be deployed using zero-touch provisioning in a matter of minutes. Once installed, telcos can work within single equipment and operating environment, instead of training their teams on multiple vendor systems and processes.

Mastering change for a faster and better-connected tomorrow

The truth is, that given the current demand for broadband networks in many countries, the idea of accessing truly fast internet is more a fairy-tale than reality – especially in rural and remote areas. Despite this, in the coming years, we can see more industry players rising to this challenge by fundamentally rethinking their approach to building and updating a reliable broadband infrastructure.

Upgrading the capacity of any dimension of a disaggregated system can be done almost instantly, without throwing away existing infrastructure. This empowers companies to effectively scale by reducing Capex purchase costs, operational and maintenance costs, and power consumption costs.

All of this offers telcos the agility and simplicity that matches cloud-native infrastructure and pioneers overall cloud transformation. They can understand the journey of data across the internet, leading to achieving improved and consistent upload speeds besides high download speeds. In no time, telcos can leverage these factors to significantly lower latency and enhance the bandwidth per customer for a redefined internet experience.