The networking world is now at a cross roads with increasing demands for more bandwidth while at the same time trying to deal with effects of a global recession. But it’s not all doom and gloom. According to a Supercomm conference panel of top technology officers from Verizon (NYSE:VZ), AT&T (NYSE:T), Sprint (NYSE:S), Quest (NYSE:Q) and BT, carrier networks are growing to meet user demands, though a number of things need to change in the future.
The carriers discussion Wednesday on the future of their networks comes at a critical point for networking policy in the US with a key ruling on Net neutrality from the FCC coming this week. Despite the regulatory and economic uncertainty, carriers are continuing to innovate.
“I think out biggest accomplishment this year has been speeding up the pace of innovation in our network and readying ourselves for growth that we think will continue,” John Donovan CTO of AT&T said. “We have had to completely look at everything from the customer back. What we did is put a lot of energy into the applications and use cases and understanding how the transformation was occurring across our network. We’ve really had to do a lot to try and accelerate everything.”
For Qwest Communications CTO, Pieter Poll, his company underwent a technology transformation over the past year, in order to provide faster access for its customers. In particular, Poll said that Qwest’s Fiber to the node initiative has raised the bar for broadband speed in the Qwest footprint.
“This year there was an important transformation, we transitioned from ADSL 2+
Speed and IP technology have also been the key network transformational goals for Sprint.
“From our perspective the biggest transformation has been the 4G network that is available today,” Mathew Oommen, vice-president of device and technology development at Sprint, said. “So we have a wireline, wireless infrastructure that is all IP, enabling the Susan Boyle’s of the world to be successful.”
The need to grow backbone networks
With the expansion of broadband speeds to consumers, the carriers are also finding a need to grow their own backbone networks to ensure that they have the required network capacity. Mark Wegleitner, senior vice president of technology at Verizon Communications, said that his company is concentrating on new backbone network platforms including the optical transport platform.
The reason why the carriers are being forced to transform their network is that their subscribers are using more bandwidth than ever before. Qwest’s Poll noted that in his company’s residential business, bandwidth usage has been growing
“A very specific number for Qwest, is 45 percent growth compounded annually in terms of per subscriber consumption,” Poll said. “From my perspective, the industry really needs to focus on tracking down cost per bit at the same rate, otherwise you’ll have an equation that’s just not going to compute.”
AT&T’s Donovan chimed in to say that simply trying to lower the cost per bit isn’t enough to deal with the underlying challenge of modern carrier networks.
“If you look at 2008 for us it was unprecedented in terms of the work we did in the backbone,” Donovan said. “The capacity we carried in 2008 five years out will be a rounding error.”
How long will a 100 gigabit network last?
Donovan added that AT&T’s 2 gigabit backbone lasted 7 years, their 10 gigabit backbone lasted five, and the 40 gigabit will last 3 years. He then asked rhetorically, “How long will a 100 gigabit network last?”
Carrier networks are set to move to 100 gigabit networking technology in 2010 as the technology becomes available.
“At 400 gigabits I think our routers melt, I think finance likes liquid assets, but I don’t think that’s what they had in mind,” Donovan quipped.
“We have to rethink how we’re carrying traffic in our networks and I don’t think you can stop at just the cost per bit. We need to back out of that and fundamentally rethink how we interoperated, how networks are constructed, how routing is done and how we move content.”