Is network densification essential for a connected Asia?

Karl Horne, Chief Technology Officer, Asia Pacific, Ciena

This vendor-written piece has been edited by Executive Networks Media to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favour the submitter's approach.

Karl Horne, Ciena
Photo: Karl Horne

In Asia, the first 3G launches over a decade ago triggered an avalanche of mobile data use. The growth continues: an Analysys Mason study forecasts that mobile connections for Asia Pacific as a whole will grow at a CAGR of 6 percent while data traffic will grow at 46 percent over a period from 2013 to 2018.

Alongside the growth in subscribers and their use of mobile data, there is another important trend emerging: machine to machine (M2M) communications powering the Internet of Things (IoT) for a range of use cases: Instrumented societies, tactile Internet, autonomous driving, and many more. As 5G networks come into play in as little as two years, they will be a key enabler for the IoT.

Smart cities and enterprises need dense networks
This M2M trend brings into focus the networks required for a smarter, more connected Asia. Operators around the world have stated that networks supporting high-bandwidth mobile data services as well as machine-to-machine communications must be much denser than those currently in use, with base stations being placed much closer to the user.

Hence the need for network densification: a network topography model that brings the cell radio much closer to the user through the widespread deployment of small cells in order to improve the overall quality of experience.

Densification is crucial to address the needs of Asian enterprises looking to use smart, connected devices and sensors to deliver improved efficiency and performance. Connected enterprises must not only run a range of applications to create the smart work environment but also conduct accurate real-time analysis and trending of their customer base.

When it comes to Asia's aspiring smart cities such as Singapore, Hong Kong and Seoul, the need becomes even more pressing. The networks underlying a smart city must be able to manage smart power, traffic, utilities and many other traffic streams, along with big data analysis.

A smart city or a smart enterprise can be truly 'smart' — as opposed to just 'automated' — only if it collects and analyses information, understands underlying trends and predicts how it is meant to behave, by using big data algorithms. Therefore, these environments need a network that can incorporate these compute/store resources at scale.

The networks servicing a connected enterprise or smart city will differ significantly from today's networks on three key parameters: capacity, complexity and latency.

  • Significantly higher capacity is needed to support the billions of low power connections that comprise the Internet of Things (IoT), and this can only be achieved through alternative networks and architectures.
  • Much greater complexity will be added to the systems that manage, orchestrate and operate networks – including smart software to automatically manage the billions of devices with differing levels of priority, bandwidth and security requirements.
  • Networks must be able to handle very low-latency traffic. For example, a fitness-band sending out a SoS signal to its monitoring centre alerting a major event, or a sensor detecting a traffic incident. Response times can literally be a matter of life and death in some circumstances and the signal/response must be near-instantaneous.

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