The 5G buzzword is increasingly used to describe the digital life of tomorrow, where connected users stream video on their devices as prolifically as they do with messaging today. Where users are connected to hundreds of appliances to enhance their business and personal lives, in a manner similar to being connected to local area networks today. 5G technologies will allow ultra-high definition video to be as commonplace as live streaming and will fuel the growth of the Internet of Things while allowing the integration of augmented and virtual reality into a variety of aspects of our everyday lives.
By 2022, there will be a significant number of 5G global services and subscribers. Industry estimates indicate that as many as half a billion people globally will be using a 5G service. The pressure on service providers is also rapidly increasing in other ways. Globally, demands for bandwidth are doubling every 18 months and the number of devices being used to connect to the Internet is doubling every 24 months.
The switchover to 5G services will not be without its share of high and lows. The cutting-edge experiences of 5G services including real-life streaming in 4K UHD, being wired into connected homes and vehicles and immersive reality experiences, will create an insatiable thirst for even more.
Delivery and last-mile expectations from service providers will sky-rocket with demands for near zero latency both during normal and peak times. Service providers will be expected to meet the demands for any expected and unexpected socially attractive events, driving viral sharing and enormous overloads on service provider infrastructure.
To meet the challenges of delivering the 5G experience, service providers have no choice but to relook at how their networks will be capable of meeting these growing demands. The reality is that the present-day networking technologies, frameworks and architectures are insufficient to cope with the demands of tomorrow’s digitally connected 5G world.
Service providers have two choices. Invest extensively into adding more connectivity infrastructure to keep up with the ever-increasing demands for capacity or find ways to accelerate, manage and optimise additional data, bandwidth and traffic through the existing infrastructures. At least two options can provide a salvation for the service providers of today. These include segment routing and dense wavelength-division multiplexing.
What is segment routing?
Segment routing enables any network node to select any path from various computations for various traffic classes. The path does not depend on a hop-by-hop signaling technique. It only depends on a set of segments that are advertised by Intermediate System to Intermediate System routing protocols, designed to move information efficiently within a computer network. It accomplishes this by determining the best route for data through packet-switched networks.
Segment routing has exceptional network qualities due to its scale and simplicity. It uses less protocols to operate, less protocol interactions to troubleshoot, avoids directed sessions between routers, and delivers automated routing in any topology. In terms of scale it hugely reduces labels in database, and configuration of tunnels.
Segment routing is a networking technology providing advanced packet forwarding behavior, while reducing the requirements of monitoring mass volumes of the network state. Key reasons for the interest in segment routing is how it supports software defined networking technologies within the Open Network Environment framework. Segment routing works well for a software defined networking (SDN) requirement. Software defined networks require tight service level agreements, efficient use of network resources, and high scaling to support application transactions. Segment routing facilitates data packets to move in more efficient routes inside a network without adding on more programming. This helps the system to function in a more simple, flexible and automated manner.
Benefits for service providers are highly improved usage of capacity, better management of traffic, greater control, and less operational monitoring. The ability to detect more than one distinct path also has huge gains in controlling network latency, and for data center to data center high speed data transfers required for disaster recovery and business continuity. The net result is flexible services, lower operational costs and net savings.
Segment routing can meet the highest levels of network performance guarantees, can provide efficient use of network resources, and can scale high for application-based transactions, at the same time using minimal state information for these requirements. Segment routing is successful in application-enabled routing, network performance guarantees, efficient management of network resources, high scalability of application transactions.
What is dense wavelength-division multiplexing?
For service providers, fibre-optic communication technologies are a key part of their operational efficiencies. Wavelength-division multiplexing (WDM) is a technology used to load multiple optical signals from different carriers into the same optical fibre segment at the same duration of time. This is done by multiplexing multiple signals using different wavelengths of lights within a predefined segment of wavelength spread.
This type of multiplexing also allows signals to move in both directions across the fibre optic cable at the same time. A WDM system includes a multiplexer transmitter at one end to mix multiple carrier signals together using a spread of wavelengths. It also includes a de-multiplexer receiver at the other end to split apart the multiplexed signal into individual carrier signals.
Wavelength-division multiplexing is popular and practiced by service providers since it is successful in expanding the capacity of the installed optical fibre networks. By upgrading the multiplexer transmitter and de-multiplexer receiver at either end of the optical fibre system, technology improvements can be accommodated, without having to make expensive reinvestments into the underlying optical fibre networks.
There are various types of wavelength-division multiplexing being used depending on the spacing between each wavelength being used, the number of channels generated, and ability to amplify the multiplexed signals inside the optical space. Of importance, dense wavelength division multiplexing (DWDM) uses the C-Band 1530 nm-1565 nm, transmission window but with dense channel spacing. DWDM systems are more sensitive and need to be stabilised since they pack in more channels in the same wavelength spread. They are typically used to support high value carrier transmissions like the Internet backbone. Typically, 96 x 200 GB signals can be multiplexed at a time using DWDM type of technologies.
Up until now the cost of adding DWDM type solutions into service provider operations has been expensive limiting their usage and the affordable gains for service providers. However recent innovations have been able to combine the IP layer and optical layers of networking into a single router. With plug and play characteristics such routers deliver the huge benefits of DWDM as well as the optimisation technologies of segment routing into a single device. This is one small but safe step for service providers in their foray into tomorrow’s 5G world.
About the author: Ali Amer is the managing director, global service provider sales at Cisco Middle East and Africa