Communications service providers (CSPs’) networks have underpinned the massive effort by digital natives to transform the world we live in. But, CSPs must now take the next steps toward automation and autonomy or risk setting back progress, Srinivasa Kalapala, Vice President of Technology Strategy and Planning, Verizon, told attendees gathered here at TM Forum’s Innovation InFocus in Dallas.
“We can’t be spectators,” he said. “If we think we can simply manage through the kind of [manual] operations we’ve done, we will pull the world back.”
Kalapala’s role at Verizon is to look at emerging technologies to determine how they will affect the company’s business. His group also evaluates emerging standards and figures out how best to work with suppliers to make new technologies a reality.
New network currencies
Like every other telco, Verizon is seeing exponential growth in bandwidth requirements, with consumption growing at 60-70 percent. Drivers include asymmetrical video traffic from streaming services such as Amazon, Netflix and Hulu, as well as IoT proliferation and development of smart cities. Artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented reality are also poised to increase demand not only for bandwidth but for what Kalapala calls “new network currencies” – guarantees of latency, security, identity and reliability.
“It’s no longer one size fits all,” he said. “Different services require different kinds of experiences.”
He added that fiber deployment is going to be crucial. “The next five years will see phenomenal growth,” he said. “We see fiber as one of the key ingredients to shape the transport network.”
Today, telecom networks are engineered for peak demands that are fairly predictable – peaks on wireless networks typically occur in the morning and early evening, for example, when people are commuting to and from their jobs. But in the future, engineering for peak traffic won’t be so easy.
Imagine that millions of people are watching a NASCAR race using virtual reality headsets that offer the potential for 360-degree video. If a crash occurs, everyone’s heads will turn to view the crash, creating an unanticipated peak demand.
“Peaks are no longer going to be well-defined the way they are today,” Kalapala said. “How can we build networks that scale to peaks at any moment depending on what’s happening?”
Coming soon to a network near you
In addition to deep fiber, other technologies and developments that will be critical are:
- unlicensed and shared spectrum;
- software-defined infrastructure;
- open source and automation;
- open radio access networks;
- 5G; and
- edge computing.
The network Verizon envisions will be completely virtualized and will consist of small clouds at the edge connecting to a much larger one in the center. The ability to move workloads around will be important, and processing for something like video from a smart streetlight will happen at the edge rather than in the core. (The Milton Keynes smart city Catalyst demonstrated this capability at TM Forum Live! in Nice in May.)
The future will also bring 5G network slicing capabilities, which allow CSPs to slice the network to accommodate a wide range of applications with very different reliability and throughput requirements. An IoT sensor network, for example, requires relatively little bandwidth – sensors need to transmit small amounts of data sporadically but frequently – but an application like remote surgery needs huge amounts of bandwidth, extremely low latency and guarantees of availability and reliability.
To accommodate such wide-ranging services, Verizon and other CSPs envision turning the network into a multi-tenant, multi-operator platform, on top of which they’ll create individual network slices. These slices will be orchestrated and assured end to end through automated closed control loops using intent-based management, analytics and policy.
“We need to be able to deliver those experiences with the same set of infrastructure, the same common network,” Kalapala said. “For us to truly create these flavors of network slices…it is simply not plausible to design it the way we have been in the typical manual way of doing things.” It will require not just automation, but autonomy, which means embracing AI and machine learning.
Collaborate to innovate
In Verizon’s networking model, intelligence including software-defined networks, a cognitive fabric and big data analytics serves as a foundation on top of which the company will deliver network connectivity that is:
- low latency;
- offers prioritization and demand elasticity;
- is self-healing;
- delivers network slicing; and
- provides identity management.
And, on top of the underlying intelligence and connectivity, sit customers’ and partner’s platforms for delivering a wide range of services.
The focus going forward must be on collaborating to drive innovation, Kalapala said. As his closing slide noted: “Let’s spend our energy on where it matters…innovation and intelligence…not on integration and customization.”