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Will 2019 be the year of network evolution?

16 Jan 2019
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Article by A10 Networks EMEA director Ronald Sens

With 2019 well underway, the hype of 5G and the growth of IoT are filling my thoughts, with both - especially the fifth generation of mobile networks - in a relatively early stage. So, how will 5G and IoT develop in the New Year?

First operational 5G networks

This year is expected to see the first operational 5G networks become available in selected areas. However, the iteration of mobile network technology won’t fully replace existing 3G and 4G networks, leaving many of us questioning what 5G’s real benefits will be, and how much extra will it cost? 

As previously, when new generations of networks have been introduced, 5G will need to coexist with existing networks to support all subscribers and the broad diversity of the installed base. 

This presents an opportunity for service providers to review and adjust their strategy, based on lessons learned during the earlier deployments of what worked best for their customers.

Radio access networks continue to evolve

This evolution will drive increasingly flexible deployment options. Associated methods of support will be based on Software Defined Networks (SDN), or as some call it ‘self-driven networks’, using a mix of Virtualised Network Functions (VNF). This evolution of legacy hardware into software-defined functions continues the development of architectural changes.

In many instances the architectural focus is on the balance of two things:

  • How to best utilise more of the common platforms to help drive down the overall deployment costs tied to new technology, and
  • The associated performance the newer and faster dedicated hardware brings to the equation.

Network operations continue to evolve

More hardware will be needed to handle the adoption of SDN and VNF. This will drive even more network advancements that will then require even more software. The continued cyclic evolution and shift to a more rapid deployment will drive an increasing need for DevOps. 

Expect to hear more about Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery, concepts that have gained attention in the development of cloud.

The development and integration of complexities will increase operational overhead before simplifications of networks can start to be realised. The operational complexities, if not managed through self-healing and the use of intelligence, could delay uptake as the evolution of network operations is just as important as the network itself. 

Virtualisation continues to evolve

Last year saw many of the service providers focus more effort on investing in resources as the shift from “old iron” to the more flexible virtualised environments hastened. The shift is part of the bigger movement associated with decentralisation, consisting of deploying smaller but more capable systems to handle the increasing traffic. 

This is not a new trend as network tonnage continues to grow no matter what kind of carrier is supporting it. The tonnage increase continues as more and more devices become available and this becomes the basis for the Internet of Things (IoT).

5G network continues to scale out

As 2019 progresses, subscribers will see 5G progress from conversation to actually supporting a limited quantity of customers. Mobile subscribers will need to obtain new devices. The work done by RAN and RF manufacturers will move from prototypes into commercial products at an increasing pace.

Hardware v software

5G drives increasing scale throughout all parts of a network, at the same time changing to decentralise many components of the infrastructure. The decentralisation is forcing trade-offs between high-performance purpose-built hardware and the use of software-defined solutions.

The trade-offs and costs will remain hot topics for years to come as custom hardware remains a leader in many instances. Virtualisation will move further ahead into containers and orchestrations to knit cooperative suppliers into a cohesive scaled solution.

Radio spectrum and government regulations

Talks regarding radio spectrum, who has what frequencies, and how they should be used, will keep governments around the world occupied. Wi-Fi offload and interconnects between public and private networks will continue to improve coverage.

The story of wireless mobility coverage will be a very interesting topic to watch unfold. 5G deployment topologies will fight to cover every inch of the major populations. Rural areas will have the most to gain.

Subscriber growth slows, connected devices increases

Subscriber counts will not go up as much as in years past. Saturation of connected individuals is reaching an all-time high although the count of connected devices will increase at a more rapid pace, as the IoT expands.

DDoS attacks grow in frequency and size

With the increase of IoT, DDoS attacks will grow in frequency and scale. More devices going on-line places even more pressure on service providers to increase their ability to combat DDoS attacks.

Mobile micro-clouds in containers

Look for the development of small cloud datacentres located at the edge of the internet, also known as cloudlets or mobile micro-clouds. This ‘edge’ or ‘fog’ computing model is an extension of existing cloud infrastructure. They will improve the latency of services for mobile devices.

The adoption of 5G creates the demand to offload resource-intensive services to the network’s edge. Cloudlet deployments will have to be very agile, so they can be quickly provisioned to adapt to a rapidly changing market. Because of this, they’ll be based in the container architecture.

As the network model evolves, so too do the opportunities for innovation and threats from disruptors. 2019 promises to be yet another fascinating year in the network world.