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Growing pains in a shrinking world

Tony ScarfoIssue:Asia-Pacific III 2009
Article no.:5
Topic:Growing pains in a shrinking world
Author:Tony Scarfo
Title:Chief Strategy Officer and Head of Global Sales Channels and Partners
Organisation:ECI Telecom
PDF size:305KB

About author

Tony Scarfo is the Chief Strategy Officer and Head of Global Sales Channels and Partners for ECI Telecom; he has more than 25 years of experience in the access, optical and data telecommunications industries. Prior to ECI, Mr Scarfo served as Vice President of Global Alliances and Partnerships at Juniper Networks. Mr Scarfo joined Juniper through its acquisition of Unisphere Networks, where he was Vice President of Marketing. He also spent a significant part of his career at Lucent Technologies as Vice President. Tony Scarfo holds an MBA from Seton Hall University and a BSc in computer science from Manhattan College, New York.


Article abstract

With today’s shrinking technology we video-conference, take photos, film, video, access the Internet, read, enjoy music and videos, do business, play games and even make calls, all on a single handheld device. Network storage and cloud computing shrinks the role of handhelds and other computing devices, but generate enormous amounts of traffic and stress existing networks. Optical fibre can carry tens of gigabits per second and do it in a smaller, more energy efficient footprint than ever before.


Full Article

Some of us still remember the vacuum tubes in our parents’ TVs. Eventually, the tubes were replaced with dozens of components each the size of a breath mint. Then microprocessors came, which today can pack billions of components (stop and think about that) into a chip the size of your fingernail. The incredible pace of shrinking technology has created new possibilities that were once only science fiction. We take so many things for granted today which were impossible ten years ago, like slipping a smart phone into a pocket, reading a novel on a book-sized computer, or downloading a high-definition movie in minutes and watching it on a crystal clear TV that is light enough and thin enough to mount on the wall. Shrinking technology has made it all possible; but at what cost? Shrinking handsets - growing dependence Shrinking technology makes it easier and easier to efficiently pack advanced features into small spaces. Nowhere is this more true than in mobile handsets. Today, we can video-conference, capture still images and video clips and upload them to the Internet, send and receive emails with attachments, browse the Web, read and watch the news, download and enjoy music, podcasts and videos, run business applications, play multiplayer games and, oh right, make phone calls, all on a single handheld device. Mobile handsets have become so central to our lives that we would never consider leaving the house without them. Because of the compact size of mobile handsets small enough to slip into a pocket or a purse, we have become completely dependent upon them. In much of the developing world, mobile phones are the only phones. Installing cellular antennas costs considerably less than laying cables for landlines to residences. This phenomenon is also driving online habits in these regions, where mobile is also becoming the primary source of Internet access. All of a sudden, millions of new subscribers a month - subscribers who cannot afford computers - are gaining access to online content, social networking and other forms of voice and data communication. Ultimately, complex networks need to have the capacity and the flexibility to handle rich content in an efficient and cost-effective way. As the gap between fixed line and wireless capabilities also shrinks, wireless networks will become as fast and reliable as fixed line networks - and they will need all the speed they can muster. Shrinking computers - stressed out networks Network storage and cloud computing are significant trends that have the potential to shrink the size and role of traditional computers. Since rapidly growing amounts of data can be reliably and securely stored and processed on remote servers and speedily served through the Internet cloud computing can reduce the amount of local storage and processing power required to work and play. What this means is that all that data will be in constant motion, adding more stress to already stretched communication networks. Although computer and TV displays might have grown over the last few years, they are also becoming thinner and lighter. In the near future, don’t be surprised if you find yourself, and definitely your kids, wearing high-definition video-display eyewear. When that happens, the little screen on the mobile handset turns into a huge movie screen or a giant workspace. That’s when mobile video, gaming and business applications will really start to give networks a workout. Shrinking attention spans As technology shrinks, speeds continue to increase. What we can do today with technology will feel sluggish compared to what we will do in five or ten years from now. We’ll look back and say, “Remember when we used to wait ten minutes to download a movie?” New technologies and updated services are rolled out so rapidly that in no time competitors are leapfrogging one another for supremacy. Even so, the breakneck pace of advancing technology just cannot keep up with market expectations. Consumers want their products and services immediately. They want instant access to content, applications and entertainment. These heightened expectations are driving a healthy-competitive telecom industry, but it’s not easy for operators to keep up. Shrinking technology has reduced the cost of telecom equipment. On the one hand, that means it is becoming easier for operators to deliver more bandwidth with fewer network elements. More bandwidth means operators can offer more services. More available services inevitably lead to more bandwidth demand. It’s a cycle that will require operators to constantly plan and adapt for exponential growth at a rate that is disproportionate to revenues. The result, however, is that consumers are always receiving more and better services. Space is shrinking Remember when people you have never met used to be called strangers? No longer Blogging, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and so on, are all shrinking the gap between people. Our planet feels like a smaller place as individuals and businesses discover new ways of reaching out to new ‘friends’ and ‘contacts’ regardless of where in the world they might be. These new relationships, though, can come with a price, namely less privacy, less security and a blurred notion of what a ‘real’ relationship is. Physical space is also shrinking dramatically. Real estate is an expensive proposition for service providers, which makes shrinking network platforms really attractive. In addition, operators have the incentive to getting as close as possible to the end customer to provide more and better services. Flexibility becomes crucial, which is why it is sometimes better to deploy smaller platforms than full-size ones. A shrinking world demands more bandwidth If there is one thing that is not shrinking it’s bandwidth. Remember the once-feared bandwidth glut? It never happened - and never will. To paraphrase the voice in the classic Kevin Costner film, Field of Dreams, “If you build more bandwidth, they will come.” They will most definitely come and will use new services, build new applications, and fulfil the broadband vision. To keep the information flowing at rates that satisfy increasingly demanding customers, network operators all face the bandwidth dilemma. The most popular emerging services, including mobile content uploading and downloading, video and gaming applications are also the most bandwidth hungry. Estimates of the growth of global bandwidth demand range from 30 to 300 per cent over the next few years. Operators need to pump up the bandwidth without jeopardizing the quality and availability of their existing revenue-generating services. All this, while trying to maintain the reduced levels of operational costs to which they adapted during the recession. To do that, they need to intelligently evolve their infrastructure to all-IP fibre networks. The most up-to-date optical fibre networks can carry as much as tens of gigabits of data per second. Compare that to the one or two voice conversation over copper pairs that were the standard not too long ago. This, and miniaturization of processing components, have significantly shrunk the equipment that handles network voice and data transmission. The latest backhaul and access equipment can handle much more traffic with fewer, smaller ‘boxes’ in a smaller, more energy efficient footprint than ever before. Evolving to meet future demands Transitioning a telecom network to support high-speed broadband, interactive high definition (HD) video services, landlines and mobile voice and data services is anything but straightforward. Operators need to plan for existing needs, emerging trends and to be prepared for bandwidth spikes associated with rollouts of exciting new services - 3D TV, for example. An important thing to remember is that no two networks are alike, and service providers and vendors need to be nimble and flexible enough to address the different challenges as they arise. Operators should be able to examine all layers of their network infrastructure and services to gain an understanding of present and future needs and devise a transition plan that minimizes disruption of existing revenue-generating services. An optimized migration plan means supporting next-generation and legacy services during the transition. When network resources are optimized, operators can provide more bandwidth with less investment. Resource optimization also helps to ensure a network is ready for potential new business opportunities, such as backhaul wholesaling and service leasing. As the world shrinks, it becomes more complex. Yet it has become easier for network operators to access expert knowledge about how to efficiently evolve their networks. To navigate the rapidly changing landscape, operators are turning more and more to experienced network equipment vendors and expert consultants. Will the world keep shrinking? Biology teaches us that as tiny as technology has become, there is still plenty of room for further shrinkage. Each chromosome in your body contains the digital equivalent of around 300MB of data. That’s a 100,000 page document or around 10 minutes of HD video - millions of times the density of the highest capacity digital storage devices. Sure, technology will continue to shrink while packing in even more powerful, bandwidth-hungry features. What’s more, as the world emerges from a global recession, the demand for services, and bandwidth will likely start to grow at an even faster pace. Operators, rush to invest in infrastructure to deliver more bandwidth will, in the future, clash even more conspicuously with their struggle to maintain profitability. The world might be shrinking, but there is no doubt that the challenges keep growing.

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