AGL Magazine, June 2016 Issue — The next evolution of our digital global civilization will be driven by life and business automation in a world in which billions of interconnected things — smart devices, objects and sensors — exchange information that is used to create new knowledge which, in turn, will be used to automate mundane tasks. Automation will make the systems and processes that underpin business and consumer lives more efficient and more intelligent. It will also change human behaviors by further increasing our dependence on the underlying network to provide connectivity that will allow us to communicate, collaborate, consume content, and to control systems, processes and devices, all in a completely contextual way.
Seamlessness and contextual communications, collaboration and control of and with everything and everyone will be of critical importance in the future. Communications will move fully into the post-voice era in which interactions shift effortlessly between people, apps, systems and Internet of Things (IoT) devices using chat, video, voice, gestures and more.
And future enterprise environments will provide the same flexible, agile, seamless and mobile experience that digitally sophisticated consumers are used to in their personal lives, allowing business to be conducted without interruption, anywhere, anytime. Part of what will enable this will be the adoption of software-defined networking in the data center, the local-area network and the wide-area network.
All of these trends will produce a dramatic shift in demand, challenging mobile operators to provide networks and platforms that achieve the highest performance at the lowest cost per bit while supporting extensive personalization.
The network will require massive elasticity and scalability to match changing demand of new services and applications. Moreover, new highly interactive and time-critical control and human perception-dependent applications (for example, virtual reality and augmented reality) will require ultra-low latency. The best, and in many cases the only, way to achieve this scalability and low latency is to move the processing and rendering to the very edge of the network, as close to the end users as possible and to dynamically optimize transport paths for data delivery at the lowest cost per bit.
At the current rate of adoption, 3G, 4G/LTE, small cells and Wi-Fi-like technologies together with the emergence of new technologies will only satisfy 81 percent of the conservative demand forecast by 2020. Our disruptive models indicate, however, that the demand could be 50 percent higher than the conservative forecast. If the disruptive forecast holds, operators would only be able to address 75 percent of the total demand. Operators that take steps early and aggressively to adopt new technologies and margin-sustaining business models will be able to address more of the demand gap profitably.
To seize the opportunity, there are some architectural considerations mobile operators must take into account. More interactive and time-critical applications will become prevalent, requiring high throughput and low latency and at a lower cost per bit. It is sobering and revealing to consider that the speed of light is the key limitation for some applications. To achieve sub-1-millisecond latencies required for human visual perception and the so-called “haptic control applications,” the signal can only travel 100 kilometers (less if some queuing or processing delay is included), which essentially mandates that the cloud has to move to the edge of the network, creating a distributed edge cloud with compute capacity close to the user. This will also increase throughput per user, because traffic will not traverse the more heavy, statistically multiplexed core network.
In addition, this edge cloud is required to support the virtualization of the network control plane, for which there are also critical timing requirements (~4 milliseconds for a split virtual radio access network [RAN] architecture and 300 microseconds for a full cloud RAN solution). Such architectural evolutions are required to support the massively scalable control plane required by the anticipated IoT growth underlying and creating the digital future.
So, in essence both the network and the new applications it will enable mandate this shift to an edge cloud future architecture. This evolution is discussed in detail in the recent book The Future X Network: A Nokia Bell Labs Perspective. See www.bell-labs.com/our-research/future-x-book/.
Our analysis shows that the potential unmet demand can be significantly reduced or eliminated by a dramatic move to next-generation technologies and architectures. However, the cost of this transition remains a key question and one that needs to be analyzed on a case-by-case basis, because it is highly dependent on the current state of network infrastructure, the labor costs, rights of way and local regulatory constraints, as well as the ability for operational support systems to support legacy and future network systems and to rapidly on-board new services. This is the subject of ongoing work by Bell Labs Consulting with operators around the globe.
Moreover, this new mobile network architecture will pave the way for life automation and “smart everything” — an intelligent and interconnected world where technology seamlessly enables and enriches our daily lives, and where users’ desires are (almost) boundlessly fulfilled, whether at home or in transit. In that future, the network will not only be something that facilitates our everyday activities, but also will be inseparable from them, ushering in a brand new era in which networked intelligence from everything and everywhere augments the progress of civilization.
Marcus Weldon is president of Nokia Bell Labs. This article is an excerpt from the Bell Labs Consulting report, “Who Will Satisfy the Desire to Consume.” Visit https://pages.nokia.com/1503.bell-labs-mobility-report.html. Photo by Pete Byron.