The ‘right’ to ultra-quick internet: fairy-tale or reality
More and more nations are passing legislation making quick residential internet access a basic right – a lot like the rights surrounding access to heating, water, and electricity. Since March of last year, UK customers have been conferred the right to demand that BT should upgrade their broadband connections if it does not furnish a constant download speed of 10MB/s and upload speed of 1MB/s. Likewise, early in 2021, the German Bundestag put forth a draft law which stipulated minimum speed requirements for uploads, downloads, and latency, which should come into effect by the end of 1H 2022.
Although, as is usually the scenario in the domain of telecoms, everything is not as it seems. Even with fresh regulations, how nation-states define ‘fast’ demonstrates massive variance from nation to nation, and usually speeds are only guaranteed for downloads. Ardent gamers or HD movie buffs will be first in line to inform you that a 10MB/s download speed is not that quick at all.
There’s additionally the problem of outdated broadband infrastructure, which can be expensive and time-intensive to upgrade for both telecoms and consumers. For example, above a threshold of GBP 3,500, British law facilitates BT to pass back the expenses of upgradation of broadband connections back to the end user. This implies that several of those dwelling in remote regions are still incapable of affording the expenses related with a fast connection. In Germany, UNESCO has voiced similar concerns, illustrating a digital rift that is emergent between employed and unemployed Germans.
The issue with last mile throughput speeds
When telecom organizations speak about residential broadband speeds, the metric they leverage most usually is the published throughput quickness of the final mile of a connection, that is, the quickness at which a client’s circuit links to the edge of their ISP’s network. Although this is a useful benchmark, it glosses over various critical aspects. To start with, provided that several networks are very much oversubscribed, quickness can demonstrate massive variance dependent on how many users are competing for bandwidth.
Second, broadband speeds are typically asymmetrical. As specified above, a majority of users experience considerably quicker download speeds in contrast to upload speeds. For example, according to Ofcom, the United Kingdom has a mean download speed of 80.2 MB/s and a mean upload speed of 21.6 MB/s. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, several homes didn’t observe this discrepancy, as services such as content streaming are reliant mainly on download speeds. Although, applications that we are now dependent upon, like video conferencing, in addition to workplace collaboration and distance learning utilities, require as much capacity in each direction.
Several telecoms severely struggled with the increase in demand for bandwidth created by the pandemic. And although the scenario has now undergone stabilization, we cannot rule out a similar spike happening in the future. The problem presently is that there isn’t adequate capacity between the access network and content delivery networks (CDNs), to cope with the peak load of users. More users, the reduced speed the network experiences.
The answer – improving broadband capacities – is simpler said than done. Provided that carriers persist continue to experience high operational expenditure, whilst mean revenue per user displays no indications of considerably increasing anytime in the future, it’s tough to observe where funding for new infrastructure would come from. That is, until now…
Network disaggregation – the industry’s knight in shining armour?
Disaggregation – the practice of deployment of network software independently from the hardware – is quickly emerging as an answer which can facilitate telecom organizations to deliver on the promise of quick broadband at reduced expense. Carriers have conventionally constructed their networks leveraging monolithic systems which integrate software and hardware from a singular vendor. This both locks them into an investment with a singular vendor and ensnares them in a vicious cycle of slow and costly hardware replacement.
On the other side of things, disaggregation telecoms to choose and deploy best in-class hardware and software independently. Disaggregated systems can substitute several functions within a telecom organization’s network, from core and edge routers to Broadband Network Gateways.
This shift has been facilitated by the arrival of high-volume, low-expense networking chips referred to as ‘merchant silicon’. This merchant silicon can be leveraged to develop a fresh categorization of potent low-expense ‘bare-metal’ switches, which are usually built on the very same outsourced assembly lines that make conventional router systems. These switches are a fraction of the cost of traditional telecom switches and routers but are equally potent. Alongside this revolutionary hardware, a new generation of networking software has also been born, which can convert bare-metal switches into the highly-featured IP/MPLS switches leveraged within broadband networks.
To summarize, network disaggregation could transform the telecoms sector in a similar fashion like Azure and AWS have transformed computing. Disaggregated hardware and software can be deployed leveraging zero touch provisioning within minutes. Upon setup, telecoms can function within a singular equipment and operational environment, rather than training their teams on several vendor systems and processes. Plus, upgradation of the capacity of any dimension with regards to a disaggregated system can be executed in minutes, without getting rid of current infrastructure. All of this provides telecoms agility, simplicity, and scalability that matches cloud-native infrastructure.
The reality is that provided present demand on broadband networks in several nations, the idea of a ‘right’ to actually quick internet is more of a dream than a reality – particularly in rural and remote regions. Regardless of this, in the upcoming years, we can expect to observe more nations passing legislation to force the hand of telecom organization’s to furnish citizens with reliable broadband access.
To rise to this challenge, telecoms must essentially rethink their strategy to developing and updating broadband infrastructure. If present monolithic systems are a pumpkin, disaggregated networks are most definitely the carriage. Fortunately, they will not require a magic wand to make their desires become reality! Tier-1 telecoms like Deutsche Telekom in Germany have already begun to deploy disaggregated broadband networks, so a happy conclusion is in the books, for certain.