Current Market Trends Shaping the Wide Area Network Space

Mark Fishburn, Director, Market Strategy, Broadband Forum
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Mark Fishburn, Director, Market Strategy, Broadband Forum

In our industry, it is easy to be lured by technologies and view them as market trends. It would be easy to reel off the usual acronym list and you are likely expecting SDN, NFV, G.fast, IoT and 5G to appear in this first paragraph. Having gotten that out of the way,  let’s look at the trends that have the potential to make a real difference for users and the financial impact on the stakeholders in the market.  

“Broadband services that deliver near instant availability of connection and content have become a requirement for living and working”

Without the engine to generate new revenues, solely focusing on cost-savings a misnomer for network optimization while obviously important becomes an inevitable and unsustainable race to the bottom that serves no one. In a nutshell, the big market trend is for innovative services that generate large scale, profitable revenues enabled by the intelligent use of new technologies. The Broadband Forum has created a new vision for broadband based on this simple premise.  

For almost 25 years, the Broadband Forum, the industry’s defining body for the broadband LAN/WAN, has had that focus. What is new is the use of latest technologies to create innovative services. As we hinted at the beginning, this is not just one trend; it’s a series of new trends. These are new services, each of which can also enable new markets in the hundreds of billions of dollars range. These markets include:

• Ultra-fast wireline infrastructure service

• Intelligent home/small business services

• Hybrid wireline/wireless connectivity services

• Broadband assured IP services  

The first of these leverages ultra-fast wireline technologies, including G.fast, also known as Fiber-to-the-Distribution Point (FTTdp). This is a ‘silent’ game-changer that reinvigorates residential and business broadband by bringing gigabit-class bandwidth without disruption to the premises. Upgraded premises gateways are user installable and, in the case of multi-tenant buildings, the same technology brings these advantages to existing building infrastructures without the expensive necessity of deploying fiber for every tenant. There are several installation options for service providers, including reverse power, but the most likely is for power to be supplied from co-located street cabinets and more. Other enhancements include the potential use of copper bonding to achieve speed of more than one gigabit per second. Interoperability testing and demonstrations of G.fast took place in 2015 and this is already being followed by deployment and product certification this year.

It is estimated that deployment of FTTdp will be an order of magnitude greater than DSLAMs. The surprise to those new to this area is that existing phone wiring now stands alongside Ethernet and Wi-Fi as an equal but unobtrusive player in the gigabit home.  

Next is Intelligent Home/Small Business Services which is emerging from developments of the Broadband Forum’s TR-069, a globally accepted standard for automated management of customer premises equipment that now has around 350 million installations. This uses SDN and NFV to switch from a device orientation to a virtualized service orientation that can gather up a long list of requirements into a standardized, dynamic and secure ecosystem—a User Services Platform. It can standardize many requirements including those of the proprietary and fragmented Internet of Things (IoT) market. This is completely aligned with the flexibility of a distributed compute/network/storage model envisaged by SDN, NFV and other initiatives in the industry. The real impact of this is to enable a single service offering, a one stop shop that is transparent to users yet with a single point of support. It opens the door for many use cases and several classes of supplier (not just traditional operators) which is why this is becoming an important and closely followed trend in the industry. The distributed compute/network/storage model is also a key element.  

User Services Platform is a fast moving Broadband Forum project. It is a standardized mechanism by which a network of user interface devices, controllers and agents communicate to activate, manage, monitor, diagnose, and control a broadband user’s network enabled services. This includes a wide array of use cases, including managed broadband services, smart home and smart building applications, small business services and management of multi-tenant facilities. It represents ongoing evolutionary development of TR-069 and related specifications from a device-specific to service-specific orientation.  

The third trend is seamless, hybrid wireline/wireless connectivity services. Currently mobile devices are able to connect some data services and applications via Wi-Fi and then wireline connectivity. In addition, limited connectivity from laptop, tablet and other Wi-Fi enabled devices can be provided to 3G and 4G wireless networks. The latter is often little more than a last resort connection. In practical terms, hybrid Wireline/Wireless Connectivity Services, with the promise of 5G networking to augment developments in ultra-fast fiber and copper wireline connectivity, provide a new and much sought-after level of service. Imagine a hybrid service where devices traditionally delivered via wireline connectivity and smart-phone devices and tablets were served by a combination of both networks.  

Imagine a world where dropped calls and poor connections are a thing of the past, where new services are instantly available and where resilience is assured by two separate network connections. Why is this trend now? Because of work underway to harness existing protocols and SDN management to effect progress in 4G networks that will accelerate further when the promised speeds of 5G become available. It opens the door for new providers to enter the space and for existing operators with wireline and wireless offerings to create a new integrated and highly sought-after service.  

Broadband services that deliver near instant availability of connection and content have become a requirement for living and working. Unfortunately, this gets equated and represented purely in terms of speed or bandwidth. While these are necessary, this is not sufficient to provide the experience that users expect and demand. For business applications, home conference calls, streaming of live events, gaming, 4K content delivery, we will require not only higher bandwidth but increased sensitivity to delay, delay variation and packet loss. The list of use cases is long and increased access speeds and content are already exposing fragile internet delivery. For anyone attempting fully interactive applications from residential or business locations, the frustrations of running business applications over even high bandwidth services are endless.  

The key is to provide on-demand assured IP services that directly connect users and user application clients to key data center applications without the uncertainties of basic internet connectivity. Broadband Assured Service (BAS) connectivity can be automatically activated via user portals. They can be offered to meet both the spirit and letter of internet regulatory legislation.  

The potential impact of these trends has drawn together the broadband community to take a holistic approach to new technologies and have them deliver real value, to all stakeholders and fuel healthy network growth. The Broadband Forum’s strategy to unlocking the potential new markets has been collectively named Broadband 20/20.

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