By Mohamed Al-Ghazali, Director of Wireline Sales, MEA, CommScope.
The most important trends driving broadband networks over the coming year are a natural extension of the progress and challenges we saw in 2021. In particular, the global response to COVID-19, the dynamic investments in networks and continued innovation in broadband technology are all contributing to the next phase of broadband evolution. We have identified six areas that will drive this evolution in 2022: continued bandwidth growth, expanded broadband access, expansions in fiber deployment, increases in DOCSIS and DAA, increased intelligence in cloud-native network management software and changing conception of modern broadband. Technology.
The Middle East is on a path of rapid expansion in the coming years in digitalization and cloud computing. Government initiatives such as the UAE Vision 2030, New Kuwait National Digital Roadmap 2035, Bahrain’s Cloud First Plan and Saudi’s $18 billion plan to develop 18 data centers will be instrumental in deployment of bradband and fiber technology.
Over the past year, we’ve seen a growth rate of around 20% in average upstream and downstream residential bandwidth usage during the busy hour window, with peaks and troughs correspondents occurring as nations and cities locked down and returned to the “new normal”. with each of the COVID waves. We hope that this activity will continue. Adding upstream capacity will be increasingly important as people use more high-bandwidth two-way communications, such as video conferencing, and upload more and more video to the cloud.
And as we face the resulting growth in remote working and distance education, customer demand and expectations for higher peak bandwidth levels will also increase. Network interaction during peak periods leads to congestion and longer queues, which leads to higher latency and jitter. MSOs will prioritize innovation that improves overall network quality and customer satisfaction.
In the future, we will see Service Level Agreements (SLAs) expand beyond current ranges to accommodate these changing usage patterns. And, in turn, these higher SLAs will spawn new bandwidth-intensive services like augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR).
In addition to increased bandwidths, the coming years will also build momentum around a more ubiquitous distribution of broadband service to many underserved areas. Several funds and initiatives aimed at creating more equitable access – such as the Egyptian initiative to connect more than 60 million people living in rural areas to high-speed internet to provide better knowledge, careers and training – will drive sales technologies and devices at all levels. as more and more subscribers access broadband. Additionally, Egypt’s initiative plans include adapting faster internet using fiber optic cables.
Similarly, the South African government has developed a National Infrastructure Plan 2050 which aims to provide high-speed internet access in every community by 2023-24 through public-private cooperation. The Kenyan government is also working on an initiative in collaboration with UNESCO to provide internet connectivity to schools. The pilot project was launched towards the end of last year with 13 schools with the aim of improving equity, access and quality of learning.
We will see fiber-based XGS PON and coax-based DOCSIS 3.1 come to many new areas that have yet to see high-quality bandwidth services, including rural areas and city centers. These investments will create a network and ripple effect with commensurate increases in revenue and the ability to add more staff to local operators. We expect to see exciting new savings and capabilities coming from rural and inner city operators over the next year.
We are also seeing an increased level of competition for broadband access. An intense race is underway as companies compete to deliver broadband service from near space. SpaceX has expanded its constellation of satellites in low Earth orbit with the launch of the Starlink satellites. Amazon recently announced plans to build internet satellites in 2022 that will provide high-speed internet access anywhere in the world.
These milestones will increase the pressure on current incumbents to find the right balance in upgrading their networks. That said, these incumbent cable networks will have different types of limits on the types of services they offer to subscribers.
For many carriers, fiber deployments will grow rapidly over the next few years. For example, some cable operators are planning deeper fiber HFC deployments to help reduce service pool size and congestion. These deployments will use Ethernet and PON to provide connectivity to DAA nodes in the future. Some telcos and cable operators that are already deploying PON solutions will likely expand these solutions to more geographic regions (due to factors such as the aforementioned RDOF program). Other cable operators will start moving from coaxial broadband solutions to PON-based broadband solutions (both EPON and XGS PON) in the future.
DOCSIS and DAA evolution
2022 will be a big year for DOCSIS, as we begin rolling out the final phases of DOCSIS 3.1 functionality. We will see significant bandwidth increase upgrades to 85 MHz upstream mid-split, 204 MHz upstream high-split, and 1.2 GHz downstream. Many of these upgrades are in direct response to increased bandwidth, especially upstream, related to COVID-19. We will also see more activation of DOCSIS 3.1 OFDMA and OFDM channels. These final DOCSIS 3.1 upgrades will serve as an important bridge between current networks and DOCSIS 4.0 networks within 2-3 years.
Gamers in the region have reason to rejoice with the low latency DOCSIS (LLD) going live. LLD has the potential as a new revenue stream for operators targeting the gaming segment, along with a set of competitive features that will enhance the overall broadband experience.
We anticipate that cable operators will continue their trend toward the deployment of Distributed Access Architectures (DAAs). These DAAs lay the groundwork for future technology injections, such as the higher bandwidths of DOCSIS 4.0 solutions. We have seen a very large increase in the number of operators deciding to move directly to remote MACPHY architectures. However, the key for the vast majority of carriers is the flexibility to choose an architecture and path that works best with their unique network. Fortunately, a host of technology innovations, like our RxD, which upgrades a remote PHY deployment to remote MACPHY via software, will provide many choices for operators to achieve their DAA of choice.
Cloud-native network management software
The goal of future network management software is to capitalize on the increased availability of flow analytics collected from many DAA devices in the field. This will provide faster access to much more data covering more network operational parameters than ever before. Cloud virtualized software will use new AI/ML techniques to quickly digest data and identify impending problems in the CIN network, HFC plant, DOCSIS network or PON network. These automated network management systems should correct problems before subscribers begin to experience negative effects. Overall, this approach will ensure that future networks are continuously monitored and tuned for optimal performance.
In the future, this type of software could also be used to manage networks at home, for businesses and public places. We may see more subscription-based models where IT teams can deliver an exceptional user experience by leveraging AI-enabled software as service troubleshooting tools. Comprehensive monitoring platforms that provide automated support with robust outage will be essential in managing distributed antenna systems and small cells.
One of the biggest challenges for vendors in the past year has been designing broadband network products in an era of scarcity. But modularity and efficiency emerged in direct response to global supply chain constraints and are among the trends that will continue into next year. Additionally, improving the environmental footprint of devices and components is a big part of how vendors address the challenges of designing the next generation of broadband products. For example, we lead initiatives to reduce energy consumption, reduce operating costs and reduce our energy footprint. It’s all part of a larger movement to improve our industry through innovation.
The coming year, as well as the years that will follow, will be marked by these incremental developments and innovations. We know where the industry is heading and we see operators taking the necessary steps to lay the foundation for that future, but the key is in the details.
Operators still have many avenues to deliver their networks of the future and define how billions of people around the world experience broadband and video. Each of these six areas will illuminate these pathways as operators balance their broader vision with advances in technology to decide the future of broadband networks.