What the telecoms industry should be prepared for in 2021

This article was published in Tele.Net on January 27, 2021.  You can read the original article here.

2020 was not the kind of year that would have been expected by anyone. The telecoms sector witnessed a new standard amid the many other components in our lives that were influenced by the pandemic. It was a year when our Internet access hit completely new heights, with a huge rise in video conferencing and corporations dispersing their operations to remote staff. But some of the fundamental improvements in technology have not stopped either. Here are some trends we can expect to see in 2021.

The emergence of new vendors for increased choice

There are only a handful of major players left standing in the telco equipment room: Cisco, Ericsson, Huawei, Juniper, Nokia. And this is compounded by the issues raised by a certain vendor regarding national security. The lack of vendor option has become a major problem that has stifled telco technology innovation. After the arrival of IP, very little has improved in infrastructure technology due to a high barrier to entry.

However, expect 2021 to be the year that a turning point is reached. Why? In short, due to the emergence of software-based solutions and network disaggregation.

Now, it’s possible to offer solutions that compete with existing suppliers for creative new software and hardware businesses. Moreover, by being disruptive, conventional suppliers are also hesitant to eat into their proven business models with their high margins and long lock-in periods.

Cloud-native will replace the chassis-based system

For a while now, we’ve heard about willingness to go ‘cloud-native’ from telcos, to follow the hyper-scalers in order to become more agile and effective. And with more traffic to be delivered than ever, particularly during the pandemic, something has to change without growing subscriber revenue expectations.

2021 is the year the change will begin to take place towards cloud-native networking. We’ve already seen the adoption of players like Rakuten on the mobile RAN, for example. And you should expect to see it on fixed networks in 2021 as well. The emergence of ‘cloud native’ networking suggests that the days of monolithic chassis-based networks are over, with the same supplier’s software and hardware.

The access network will continue to be the biggest pain point

The greatest pressure point was at the heart of the network when Internet traffic first reached carrier networks. In order to meet demands, vendors rushed to build ever-faster routers and higher capacity optical systems. Then in the last mile, when customers found their cable lines creaking under the pressure of online TV and triple-play networks, the congestion flared up.

By the advent of Content Delivery Networks (CDNs), which serve copies of the most common content from servers embedded along its edge, the core has been insulated these days. And investments in fiber-to-the-cabinet and fiber-to-the-home have alleviated the final mile challenge, with 5G expected to overcome mobile constraints.

This takes us to the access network, the main unsolved pain-point. This is the portion of the network that would carry the last mile of all the traffic from those CDN servers. That means all the online TV traffic has to cross the access network in order to hit the end-consumer, along with a rise in home work and new machine-to-machine traffic.

As 2021 quickly approaches, it will become increasingly apparent that new innovations will concentrate on the access network, as it will have to keep up with growing demands.