Next Generation Broadband: Scaling for Demand

Introduction

Information: “Anything, anytime, anyplace”. That’s exactly what big companies are desperate to supply to us. The trouble is that most of the broadband technology currently in place won’t scale up to deal with things like delivering high definition video to large audiences.

We sat down and talked with Meriton Networks that has a fascinating solution for helping to build scalable network components.

Next generation broadband.

Contents

Objective

On reading this article you should understand

  • The challenges of delivering high bandwidth content to large numbers of home and mobile broadband users
  • How Agile Optical Networking (AON) changes the way in which bandwidth is provisioned

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More Speed?

As of the time of going to press, broadband speeds of up to 24Mbps are possible. However, these higher speeds are only available to relatively few customers based close to equipped exchanges. Just as importantly, hidden behind the broadband exchange is a backhaul network that assumes, for cost reasons, that subscribers are never going to use their service all at the same moment. You might assume that 1000 subscribers, each with a maximum of 1 mbps to the home, would have 1000 mbps reserved for them in that backhaul network. In that case you’ll be very disappointed. It will more likely be 20 mbps. The overbooking ratio on domestic consumer services is typically 50:1.

For large telecoms operators, getting significant (>15Mbps) bandwidth out to the masses can be problematic due to constraints of the existing local infrastructure.

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Changing the Traditional Demand Model

Today, we think of broadband services in terms of constant bandwidth (e.g. x Mbps). How might this way of thinking change if we consider things like downloading music and video? For example, if I could bring up a list of films to download & watch and choose one let’s see what happens.

  • I choose a film to download and send the request off to a remote server that contains the video file.
  • The server sends me the file via my broadband link.

During the time that the file is being sent to me, I need bandwidth & lots of it! However, I only need it for the duration of the download. These short times of being able to deliver high bandwidth (or “bursts”) differ from today’s model that assumes a worst case of fixed bandwidth and low concurrent network usage.

It is important for broadband providers to have a network in place that can easily adapt to the varying demands that high bandwidth applications (e.g. video / entertainment) can make. This means increasing the speed of the broadband services available, and also ensuring increased capacity and flexibility in the backhaul network.

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Fulfilling Increased Bandwidth Requirements

21st Century Broadband Networking Architecture

Meriton network components (infrastructure) sit logically in the middle (see diagram above), between a broadband provider and your home, office or mobile device. The key to the system lies in being able to:-

  • Scale the backhaul infrastructure to service increased bandwidth requirements
  • Easily perform the necessary upgrades with the minimal of manual intervention

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Challenges of Provisioning Based on Existing Infrastructure

Much of the existing backhaul infrastructure in place for delivering broadband is a mixture of technology put in place to implement 1stgeneration xDSL. This technology was based on assumptions of “estimated” bandwidth requirements, and that the traffic patterns in the network were predictable and slow to change. As demand for consumer broadband enabled applications increases, these assumption are blown out of the water, as we explored earlier.

When traffic patterns change, for instance the whole nation tuning into broadband-delivered TV coverage of a big news event, manual steps are currently needed to “flex” the network capacity. All of this means expenditure in the form of “Operating Expense”. As a network carrier this means that as broadband infrastructure increases, so does the cost of putting it in and maintaining it!

This is generally thought of as not being a scalable proposition.

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What is Agile Optical Networking (AON)?

Meritons Agile Optical Networking Solution

AON is a way of automatically putting in place the infrastructure to support varying /increasing broadband demands. Its key value is that of being easily scalable (something that existing PSTN infrastructure is not).

The existing approach to provisioning broadband infrastructure requires lots of guess work to try and accurately predict what demand is going to be. By implementing AON, less work is required up front on planning capacity as extra bandwidth can be brought online in a quick and cost effective way.

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Benefits of AON

AON is designed to be scalable. This means that as broadband demands vary, it is very easy for network carriers to add additional infrastructure to meet demand.

The necessary changes can be make quickly and mostly without manual intervention. This benefits both the network carrier and the end user by reducing time to implementation as well as reductions in cost.

The main benefit is that network carriers will be able to offer an infrastructure that can be scaled easily in response to unpredictable (i.e. who can predict what application is around the next corner?) demand.

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Learning From The US

In an effort to stimulate and compete in the US, Comcast (US Telecom & Broadband Company) invested in an Agile Optical Networking approach some five or so years ago. According to Meriton, Comcast are now well placed to respond to increasing broadband demand where its competitors are struggling to offer the bandwidth, speed and contention.

Following suit (although a little later!), a major UK based telephone / broadband carrier has selected Meriton to supply AON kit in exchanges. This is an investment in the future for the network carrier.

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Play For Content

Why bother sticking all this new kit in? The answer is simple. It’s about simple economics.

“Convergence” means many applications and services all being delivered through your broadband connection. For example, broadcast TV, video, music as well as the Internet can be pumped through your broadband. However, the problem is that there currently just isn’t enough reliable bandwidth (partly due to restrictions of existing infrastructure) around to be able to deliver all of these services.

So, the content exists, the customers exist but there’s currently no way of getting all of these services out to the masses via a broadband delivery channel.

Whoever manages to achieve this first hopes that securing these “multi-play” services will be a big earner. Getting there first is partly about locking out the competition so that’s why a race is on!

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Conclusion

The economic benefits of AON are obvious. However, the infrastructure challenges are only part of the many issues (e.g. regulatory) that face broadband network carriers in Europe.

Implementing AON will be a big step in giving us all better access to technology that will increase our options for consuming business and leisure applications and content.

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Acknowledgements

www.Broadband-help.com expresses its thanks to Merition Networks in preparing and editing this article.

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