Coming soon to your home in the near future?

A Jetsons-like world of automation and virtual and augmented reality is with reach, but only if communications service providers and their suppliers can make good on the promises of network functions virtualization (NFV) and software-defined networking (SDN). That’s the message Phil McKinney, President & CEO, CableLabs, delivered to the crowd gathered at NFV World Congress in San Jose, California, on Wednesday. The event is being streamed live on Telecom TV.

McKinney began his keynote with this video depicting ‘The Near Future’:

“Those services are dependent on what you are creating,” McKinney said. “Next-generation services are wholly dependent on the NFV and SDN world to make them a reality.”

A gigabit world

CableLabs is an R&D organization whose members include the world’s largest cable operators. McKinney pointed to recent advances increasing the bandwidth and capacity delivered to enterprises and consumers. Customers in many markets today can order 1Gbit/s and 2Gbit/s services, and CableLabs’ full duplex Docsis technology announced late last year will pave the way for symmetrical 10Gbit/s services.

“The gigabit future is not some distant dream and hope – it is being built today with billions of dollars of private capital,” McKinney said. “But speed by itself does not allow for the experiences you saw in the Near Future video.”

A critical component for services like autonomous vehicles and telepresence, or distance virtual reality as McKinney calls it, is low latency. To reduce latency, CableLabs is proposing “near compute”, a kind of reverse-cloud technology.

“We need to take the cloud, chop it up into little pieces and highly distribute that into the network,” McKinney explained. “The network is no longer about dumb pipes; it’s about very flexible edge computing… And in the case of latency, distance is the enemy.”

Locating compute infrastructure closer to users will inject a lot of complexity into the network, he warned. How do you manage the edge? How do you roll out the services? How do you update them? “You’re literally talking about managing 10,000 or 100,000 mini data centers scattered throughout the network,” he said.

Federating services across complex networks is going to require automation, operational efficiency and security that isn’t an afterthought.

“Security is not going to get addressed by any one company,” McKinney said. “We need to all come together to have the conversation. In the past, security was slapped on – it was putting lipstick on the pig – but thinking about it right from beginning is critical.”

He concluded: “I am an optimist. We have an unlimited future but the only way this future becomes a reality is the work that this group is doing on defining the NFV/SDN future.”


    About The Author

    Managing Editor

    Dawn Bushaus began her career in technology journalism in 1989 at Telephony magazine, which means she’s been writing about networking for a quarter century. (She wishes she didn’t have to admit that because it probably gives you a good idea of how old she really is.) In 1996, Dawn joined a team of journalists to start a McGraw-Hill publication called, and in 2000, she helped a team at Ziff-Davis launch The Net Economy, where she held senior writing and editing positions. Prior to joining TM Forum, she worked as a freelance analyst for Heavy Reading.

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