Restoring balance to the bandwidth scales

Network usage needs have evolved dramatically, especially over the past two years. Consumer traffic flows are shifting heavily toward the home to support remote working, gaming, and e-learning. Not to mention, more people are now online. Globally, internet user numbers are growing at an annual rate of almost 5%, and Southeast Asia remains one of the world’s fastest growing internet markets. The appetite for more bandwidth is constantly growing, and network providers are racing to meet this demand.

Furthermore, enterprises are accelerating their digital transformation and are moving toward virtualised network functions and cloud applications including software-defined WAN to reduce costs. Network operators are also evaluating their infrastructure as deployment decisions for 5G in the region gain pace.

Figure 1. Key application and consumer trends happening in the market

So, what does this all mean? These market shifts are driving traffic toward the edge of the network, which necessitates more distributed computing power. Network providers looking to modernise their IP networks will need a new strategy that can support new traffic flows and the exponential number of new services they will have to deliver over the next several years.

Limitations of traditional network designs

A key challenge of traditional access, aggregation, and metro networks is their static design. Residential and enterprise networks were often built as entirely separate networks because they were designed to support different service types and service-level agreements.

Moreover, all traffic flows move from the access to the metro in a hub-and-spoke configuration, with all services entering the metro regardless of the end destination.

Figure 2. Traditional network design

This type of architecture makes it challenging to insert applications closer to the edge (specifically the access and aggregation zones), resulting in a network that is too rigid to support new distributed services and applications.

Furthermore, lack of operational automation and hardware programmability leads to stranded bandwidth when traffic patterns change—a result of the inability to move traffic flows as needed. A network evolution that modernises existing assets with the latest in technology innovation is required.

The promise of IP/optical convergence

Without adequate network automation and hardware programmability, the network can take hours, days, or even weeks to respond to changes. Central to resolving this conundrum is IP/optical convergence, which allows network providers to achieve a more cost-efficient, resilient, and unified offering that streamlines networks.

IP/optical convergence refers to the streamlining and simplification of networking layers that include optical (Layer 0) and IP (Layer 3). In a converged architecture, it’s possible for one network element to do the work of two or three in a legacy architecture.

In this way, IP/optical convergence offers the unique capability to streamline networks, thereby enabling network providers to adapt configurations to meet bandwidth requirements in a flexible, agile manner. This convergence could also realise a range of benefits, including increased operational automation and simplicity, improved service velocity, improved reliability, as well as reduced total cost of ownership.

The secret to successful IP/optical convergence

It’s important to remember that no two networks are created equal. Every network comes with its own unique history, configurations, topology, and operational requirements. It is this reality that makes a one-size-fits-all approach for convergence nearly impossible.

However, what is universally critical to tying all elements together from Layer 0 to Layer 3 of the converged infrastructure is a multi-layered and intelligent network. To truly unlock the full capabilities of IP/optical convergence, the modernised network must streamline and support all automation functions within a unified open interface, not through disconnected software applications. Even after stripping legacy infrastructure apart to converge the network technology, network providers will only really be halfway to realising effective network evolution without automation.

Ensuring network strategies are modernised for the digital age 

Modernising the network may seem daunting, but it’s necessary. In the new networking environment, software control, automation, and analytics are no longer “nice to haves”—they’re needed for successful network transformation. The hunt for new value will drive distributed edge cloud nodes closer to communities and enterprises, requiring high-performance compute, networking, and AI-powered systems that can enhance productivity while improving user experiences.

The world has moved on from old networking architectures quickly and, in many cases, permanently. Ultimately, network providers seeking to streamline their networking layers are likely to mitigate revenue declines while enabling a consistent, seamless user experience regardless of location.