The 4 Communications Technologies to Look For in 2014, and Beyond

2013 was abuzz with SDN, SON, VoLTE, and WiFi. Even though these technologies are there for quite some time now, they generated far more interest in 2013, than ever. We expect them to bring about some of the biggest disruptions in the communications domain in 2014. Let’s look at what our experts have to say about the future of these technologies.

Software Defined Networking (SDN)

Saro Velrajan, Director Technology, Aricent
What app stores did for smartphones, SDN will do for networking gear.

There is little doubt that SDN is gradually coming out of the hype cycle and getting into operators’ strategies for deployment in their networks. In 2014, and onwards, we will see more interesting SDN products, deployment success stories, and hitherto unthinkable use cases. However, the most exciting opportunities for SDN are in the applications that can be built for SDN adoption in enterprises and carrier networks. It’s a situation similar to the opportunity enabled by the launch of consumer app stores for mobile devices. With app stores in place, developers have been able to let their imaginations run wild to develop applications that suit every taste and interest. What app stores did for smartphones, SDN will do for networking gear. In fact, we’ve already seen the launch of a SDN app store from a Tier-1 equipment vendor. In an SDN-enabled carrier network, service providers can create a number of applications that can cut their opex and capex, improve customer experience, and deliver new revenue opportunities.

WiFi

Gopi Mohan, AVP, Technology, Aricent
SDN will make WiFi network simpler, cost effective, and make interoperability a reality.

SDN will redefine how WiFi networks are built and deployed. The access points will get thinner, commoditized, and much less expensive. SDN will not just simplify management and provisioning but it will also drastically reduce the cost of access points and operational cost of a WiFi network, while making interoperability a non-issue.

A new concept is emerging, where in, by adding an OpenFlow client to a FIT access point, OEMs/operators can move all rich FAT AP functions such as RIP, OSPF, NAT-Control, Firewall, IKE, DHCP, IGMP, PPPoE, and ALGs-Control to the cloud. Moving these complex features, which require high processing power, to cloud, significantly reduces the bill of material cost (BOM) of a WiFi access point, making it an inexpensive commodity. The significant cost reduction comes from the CPU, memory and clock that are used on these types of APs.

On the other hand, moving FAT AP functions to the cloud limits ‘truck rolls’ only to hardware installation and replacement. The software complexity that attracts more faults and require regular maintenance and upgrade can reside in datacenter servers. So, for maintaining the hotspots, operators need to send their maintenance staff to the datacenter rather than the access point physical location. It drastically minimizes the number of skilled resource required to maintain/reconfigure faulty access points.

Self-Organizing Networks (SON)

Avijit Ghosh, AVP Technology, Aricent
A centralized SON that can manage both 3G and 4G networks will make for SON success stories.

SON will play a major role in the operators’ network deployment strategy. As the network gets more complex with heterogeneous access technologies inter-operating with one another, network management will be far more complex than it is today. SON will be critical to simplify network management and enhance customer experience. However, there remains a flaw with many of the SON systems available today, and that is their inability to optimize both 4G and 3G networks from a single solution.  In developed markets and indeed a number of emerging markets, the proliferation of 4G rollouts means that many operators around the world are simultaneously managing 4G and 3G as well as 2G networks, meaning there is already a large degree of complexity in network management as it is, without needing to manage two separate SON systems.  In order for SON to become integral to a multi-network operator strategy, SON solutions need to “up their game” and optimize both 3G and 4G from one central point. It is vital that network equipment providers in particular move towards providing SON that works across multiple access technologies in order to provide an “all-in-one” solution - further simplifying network optimization for operators. Network technologies need to work together in order to provide seamless connectivity. Optimizing the entire network from a single control point will ensure that the entire network has optimal coverage and can guarantee seamless handover between cell towers and access technologies.

Voice over LTE (VoLTE)

R Ezhirpavai, AVP Technology, Aricent
The free OTT services will give way to the reliability and quality of VoLTE

As the LTE networks proliferate, in 2014, VoLTE will come out of discussion forums to our smartphones. The debate on the viability of VoLTE services, when many advanced OTT services/applications are freely available, will gradually subside. OTT services will still exist and grow, however, VoLTE will significantly dent OTT services market share and it will make traditional circuit switched voice calls offered by 3G and 2G networks obsolete. VoLTE HD voice calls will become the new normal, driven by reliability, rich features, and quality.  VoLTE will enable operators to optimally utilize their advanced networks and empower them to offer innovative multi-media services. Since not all operators are on board quite yet, there will be a gap for some period of time before all networks and devices are VoLTE-compatible and offer the same diversity of services and options that are available today. However, operators who will adopt VoLTE will be able to offer differentiated services, and hence will have competitive advantage. Moreover with 3G and 2G networks fading away, VoLTE will become mandate for supporting emergency services. It would also help them utilize many of the data services along with voice and video. Many governments may also mandate VoLTE support through LTE to handle interception and fraud detection. Since operators need to protect their voice service revenues so it’s to their advantage to use a dedicated protocol like VoLTE rather than offer supplementary OTT VoIP solutions. VoLTE can also help operators provide voice services while roaming with the advantage of using home operator’s services even while roaming.

This article was originally published in ET Telecom.

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