‘Digital transformation,’ once a nascent concept, is now a well-established reality for enterprises in many markets, including communications services. As the suppliers of services driving this transformation, operators and service providers are now reaping the benefits, but also the related challenges.
In the mobile service provider market—for backhaul, especially—the overarching challenge is sustainably, reliably delivering business services and applications. Change is rapid for enterprises (the customers of providers), with technologies and business opportunities creating a myriad of network use cases that frequently shift. Providers must figure out how to best match the architecture they have at their disposal with requirements for many different types of services, in order to differentiate themselves in an often brutally competitive market. Sometimes this seems impossible.
It is under these conditions that the evolutionary stage for next-generation network communications gets underway. Do the Internet of Things (IoT), machine-to-machine (M2M), social media, entertainment, and robotics spell doom for traditional operators and service providers? The answer is a resounding no, as long as operators find a way to deal with the strain on their resources created by a growing population of technology-consuming users (and ‘things’) that demand not just ‘good enough’ connectivity but an excellent experience through ultra-reliable access to a wide variety of communications and entertainment services.
Mobile backhaul network operators and service providers bear the responsibility of developing, deploying, and maintaining technology for reliable service delivery, in the near-term and the long-term. Backhaul needs to be ready for 5G, which means being ready for nearer-term enablers like the Internet of Things (IoT), significantly lower latency, and small cells. These factors are already playing, and will continue to play, a key role in consolidating various wireless technologies needed for a complex web of services and their respective optimization requirements. Read on for a look at how IoT, latency, and small cells are impacting the strategies of backhaul operators.
Ready or Not, Here IoT Comes
IoT is slowly, but firmly, becoming the key technology that operators must support; its role has shifted toward being the central method by which consumers and businesses collectively identify their assets and create day-to-day operational models based on those assets. It doesn’t matter whether the ‘customer’ is a robotics manufacturing company or a single financial transaction initiated by a consumer; operators must be able to elevate service delivery above limitations of their communications architecture in order to sustain that service and fulfill its specific requirements.
The dilemma this creates for providers is nothing less than the need to simultaneously:
- Rapidly leverage new business opportunities
- Provide solutions that help commercial customers change their business models
- Adapt to dynamically changing service requirements
Operators and service providers can only hope to surmount this by working with both legacy an high-tech technology developers to create what’s needed to reduce operational costs, enable scalability, and address new revenue sources.
IoT devices and service may or may not require investment in lower latency, but other types of services certainly will–especially those defined specifically as ‘5G.’
Raising the Bar on Low Latency
The ultra low-latency upon which 5G services depend can only be achieved by controlling and dynamically managing a network’s transmission layer using multiple virtual networks. Operators must therefore tightly couple granular visibility into and control over both the network and the services running on top of it. That’s the only way to manage multiple virtual network slices, each with predefined KPIs for precise delay, packet loss, throughput, and other requirements.
Such significant changes to latency have another requirement: deploying small cells as part of an overarching backhaul transformation strategy.
Small Cells Are a Big Deal
Although small cells have been through several cycles of “the next big thing” hype and haven’t really taken off as expected, they nonetheless cannot be discounted because they will be one of the key architectural elements of 5G. Why? Two words: latency and densification. Existing fiber deployments tend to be designed for long distance applications (think fiber to the home and other variations of FTTx), and won’t be able to meet latency requirements of some 5G network slices. For that, operators will need to turn to densifying their networks using small cells. Wireless backhaul likely will become a new player in the backhaul market, and this is an application where small cells make sense.
A denser coverage model, in other words, will shift operators away from macro cell towers and toward small cell and micro-service architectures. This increases the role of the fixed network, requiring backhaul operators to aggregate technologies and transform themselves into network slice connectivity providers within the 5G architectural umbrella. 5G is perhaps best defined as a ‘cloud of mobility,’ in which a diverse set of wireless technologies (including 3G, 4G, and Wi-Fi) complement one another to provide a flexible, efficient architecture for service connectivity.
Where is all this focus on IoT, latency, and small cells leading? Nothing less than a new backhaul architecture!
On Beyond 4G
Backhaul could very well be what makes or breaks the success of 5G (not to mention the other types of revenue opportunities already discussed), with a direct impact on sustainable growth and efficiency of business services. The pressure is intense for backhaul providers, because they must change their organizational structures and the way their networks are operated. Requirements for backhaul networks in future include:
- Support the massive scale of M2M communication
- Provision a controlled environment with near zero delay
- Deliver close to 100% service reliability
- Offer the same flexibility and diversity as 5G cloud networks
Further complicating matters: 5G’s reliance on networking slicing, and its resulting diversification of demand on the backhaul network based on dynamic service requests.
Backhaul service differentiation depends on leveraging different types of access technologies and resources to ensure providers can meet demands placed by increasingly stringent service level agreements (SLAs), many of which take low latency to a whole new level.
The next generation of mobile network connectivity requires correlating performance of both the service layer and the network connectivity layer. Performance management processes and tools must therefore be capable of providing precise, granular, correlated visibility into service and network performance, as well as control over these assets. Otherwise, network operation is like driving in the dark with headlights turned off; an accident waiting to happen.
Accedian’s SkyLIGHT already provides that visibility, correlation, and control; it’s in use by operators around the world for their 4G and even more advanced networks. Our roadmap of continued development for the solution means it will be a key player in 5G, for all layers of network domains—from Layer 1 through Layer 7.