Why simplifying networks is critical for India’s digital growth
India's telecom industry is facing multiple challenges, and the traditional ways of reducing CapEx and OpEx may not be enough. Ciena's Gautam Billa details how an evolution of the network edge using new technologies like Segment Routing results in far better utilization of network assets. This article was originally published in Communications Today.
The last 18 months have truly been a roller-coaster ride for the telecom industry in India. On one side, there has been a significant drop in service-provider revenues and on the other side there has been an exponential growth in data traffic. From Swiggy to Uber to WhatsApp, consumers are relying on their mobile phones now more than ever. According to Analysys Mason, Indian smartphone users now download an average of about 8.5 gigabytes of data a month – or potentially more than 40 hours of video – off mobile networks without using Wi-Fi.
Service providers are facing challenges with charges on AGR (adjusted gross revenue), high spectrum costs, and tax issues; on the other hand, new technologies like 5G, IoT, and AI are already demanding new investments for massive increase in bandwidth and a combination of network and edge-cloud deployments in access networks.
The ecosystem is under stress and could benefit from new ways of reducing CapEx and OpEx outflows. The cost-reduction curve of chipsets, network equipment, and existing technology will have its limitations and may not be able to drive the required ROI on business cases. There is a certain need for new protocols and architectures, which could bring in more disruptive benefits.
Supporting new service-performance requirements mandates increased computing capacity at the network edge alongside growth in the number of IP-enabled network elements. This means IP-enabled networks must also evolve by becoming far simpler to own and operate to prepare Indian networks for the next wave of growth.
Networks are further progressing from IP-centric to application-centric and will need to be open, programmable, and virtualized in a way that allows resources to be reconfigured rapidly and dynamically to enable new services like sensors, autonomous cars, and smart devices. This evolution will not be about adding more protocols; rather, it will be about how easy it is for an end-user, human or machine, to connect to desired content and how fast the network adapts to new application requirements. Simplifying networks is about flexibility, cost-efficiency, automation, and performance.
With the rise of IoT, AI, and 5G, it is critical to gain more control over the IP network while reducing its complexity. Enter Segment Routing, a source routing extension of MPLS that leverages all the benefits of software-defined centralized control and distributed intelligence, allowing the networks to evolve and become more scalable, efficient, and cost-effective.
Evolving networks to increase performance
Networks exist to deliver data packets between different endpoints. For example, to stream Game of Thrones on Hotstar, the content is broken down into data packets on the backend in order to quickly and seamlessly deliver the show from the cloud or a content cache to your living room.
Now imagine there are millions of users, each demanding their own personalized content into their living room. This poses some serious traffic-engineering challenges at the network layer. Existing traffic engineering could be either manual or automated by existing protocols, which are hardware-centric, highly complex to manage and operate, and require many signaling protocols. Until now, the network operators needed to choose the lesser of two evils.
More control over network traffic drives better digital experiences
With the rise of IoT, AI, and 5G, it is critical to gain more control over the IP network while reducing its complexity. Enter Segment Routing, a source routing extension of MPLS that leverages all the benefits of software-defined centralized control and distributed intelligence, allowing the networks to evolve and become more scalable, efficient, and cost-effective. Segment Routing mixes the simplicity of Internet gateway protocols with the power of traffic engineering, enabled by a centralized path computation engine. In other words, network elements (routers) become far simpler to design and manage. This is because existing nodal intelligence and associated signaling, which determines where data packets are routed around the network, are moved to a centralized controller that sees the whole network, from end to end, to provide smarter and faster traffic-engineering decisions. The business result is a far better utilization of network assets.
As India looks ahead to a continuous wave of explosive digital growth, India’s service providers need the ability to evolve their existing network infrastructure to support new services, such as 5G, IoT, and AI without adding complexity and negatively impacting total cost of ownership. Segment Routing has strong potential to become the main IP network architecture that will usher in the next era of digitization in India.