6 Predictions for the Future of Network Communications in 2018

What lies ahead for network communications in the coming year?

The future can never be predicted with certainty, of course. But every year we like to try. So, here goes for 2018.1.

1.CSPs will strive to own the entire end-to-end digital experience of their end-users

As the boundary between communications service provider (CSP) infrastructure and IT vanishes, operators wishing to stay competitive will strive to delight their customers by not only offering the best performing network, but also by owning and assuring the best digital experience of the end-user journey from initial subscription to end-to-end application performance—whether cloud, streaming, or simply web-based—on any device they use.Related to this, the repeal of net neutrality in the U.S. may lead to more investment in traffic shaping infrastructure. If cable providers respond by requiring services like Netflix to adequately cover their network costs, choke-points will increase at the access network ingress, causing service level agreement (SLA) compliance to become more important. If they can be sure of their ability to comply with SLAs, CSPs can differentially offer new packages and/or increase prices for access to specific services.  

2. CSPs will strive to help enterprises on their digital transformation journey

In 2018, CSPs striving to get away from the dumb-pipe commodity stigma, will start offering “digital transformation assurance-as-a-service.” The purpose of such offerings is to help enterprises transition on-premises corporate apps to the cloud (whether private or public) by assuring the performance of these apps before, during and after such transition. In other words, CSPs will strive to not only be the pipe to the cloud, but also the success-assuring gateway.

3. Revenue challenges will significantly change operator business models

The loss of revenue from voice services (thanks to availability of free Wi-Fi and VoIP) and the escalating demand for data streaming are forcing Tier 1 mobile operators to run their businesses differently. The Internet of Things (IoT) is playing a big role in this dynamic, too. Because the network provisioning costs to offer a low-revenue IoT data subscription are similar to the costs of a $100 per month subscription service, CSPs must fundamentally restructure operating costs to match the revenue opportunity presented by IoT—which essentially comes down to using scarce network resources in the most efficient way possible against any particular revenue opportunity.

During 2018, these already-in-progress, revenue-related changes will accelerate. CSPs will look for new sources of revenue from IoT and related services that can be delivered using a lower-cost (OpEx) but better-performing network. Accedian can help by ensuring they get the most out of their existing networks, and prepare for 5G, with cutting-edge but lightweight and affordable performance assurance technology.

4. Virtualized/hybrid SD-WAN will play a significant role in CSP strategies 
In 2018, several CSPs will deploy so-called “hybrid SD-WAN” or “virtualized SD-WAN”, where they will leverage a combination of SD-WAN with their existing Layer-2 access infrastructure to maximize footprint and reach, pool compute resources at mini-datacenters instead of at every customer premises equipment (CPE) location, and offer Layer-2 services out-of-franchise. This will yield lower CapEx and OpEx, improved reliability, and faster SD-WAN install.

5. “Early 5G” will arrive… whatever that means

According to general doctrine, 5G requires a new standalone RAN specification, and use of millimeter wave spectrum (30-300 GHz). But “early 5G”, expected to reach commercial viability over the next year or so probably won’t hit both, or even either, of those requirements. So is “early 5G” really 5G? Is it just 4.5G dressed up as 5G? Maybe. Does it really matter? True 5G is a revolutionary step up to a new kind of mobile, but getting there inevitably is an incremental process.

What can new or upgraded networks and services do? That’s what really matters; the actual technology used to get there is a moving target. 5G isn’t really one “thing” anyway, but instead an increasingly complex root system that must be carefully and intelligently managed to keep it healthy. During 2018, getting as close to gigabit LTE as possible, and reducing latency, remain the big goals for the evolution of mobile. We’ll see significant progress on both fronts this year.

6. Edge computing will earn its rightful place as vital to 5G

As FierceMarkets pointed out, without edge computing 5G is merely a glorified version of 4G, using more spectrum to deliver more bandwidth. True 5G, you could argue, requires fundamental network architecture changes to achieve—among other things—significantly lower latency. 2018 will bring more mobile network and enterprise network edge deployments. Whether you define these as actually being part of 5G yet, it’s a step in the right direction.

As the number of endpoints in carrier networks multiply, CSPs will need very cost-effective solutions to manage network quality. Those solutions need to capitalize on the push to edge computing. Beyond the access considerations, moving compute loads (network functions/slices) through the edge computing network will need to be targeted and dynamically location optimized to ensure required delay characteristics. Players with small footprint, virtual plays are likely to be successful in helping operators with this challenge.