India telcos must brace their networks for data deluge

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Soaring mobile device usage and data traffic are driving unprecedented connectivity demand across India, leaving operators asking whether their networks are ready for the deluge. A new white paper from Ciena explains how Indian operators preparing for 5G evolution can lay the groundwork now to future-proof their networks.

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The Indian mobile market is a unique market on several levels, a key one being that it is one of the few mobile markets where popularity of your service can be both a blessing and a curse.

At 1.2 billion mobile subscribers, India is the second largest mobile market in the world (only slightly behind China). Usage of mobile devices is skyrocketing, and data traffic growth projections are driving unprecedented demand for connectivity across the Indian subcontinent, from the urban centers to the rural villages. GSMA Intelligence estimates that data traffic growth in India alone will exceed 60% annually through 2020, driven by social networking and video-driven online services.

While the majority of Indian mobile customers are using 2G and 3G, 4G is ramping up fast, and the recent release of ultra-low-cost 4G smartphones is expected to accelerate that. Meanwhile, the Indian government is already setting its sights on 5G, and aims to see at least a modicum of 5G services launched in the country by 2020. That is happening alongside the government’s “Digital India” initiative to provide Internet connectivity to 250,000 villages across India, and its plans to transform at least 90 cities into smart cities.

So, put simply, India’s telcos are in a booming market with insatiable demand for their product – what could go wrong?

Well, a couple of things spring to mind, starting with the reality that Indian operators already operate on ultra-low ARPUs and razor-thin margins exacerbated by cutthroat competition and costly spectrum. Even with market consolidation well underway, competition will be disruptive enough to keep ARPUs – and thus margins – low in the near term.

Which brings us to the other problem – with all the data traffic headed their way, are operators’ networks ready to meet that demand? For the ones still using costly, complex, and non-scalable legacy TDM technologies for network operations, the answer is: probably not. That means network upgrades, which means spending money, which is a tall order given the previous paragraph.

The good news is that the evolution to 5G isn’t just about faster data speeds and low latencies – it also delivers significant performance gains and operational efficiencies that will help take the sting out of network investment. But according to a new white paper from Ciena, the important element of 5G evolution is a strategy that lays the groundwork for future-proofing the network.

Because here’s the thing about 5G. We know what it’s capable of delivering – the 10-Gbps speeds, the 1ms latency, etc and so on. But we don’t know what kinds of services it will enable or what kinds of traffic usage patterns it will unleash. We can guess – right now the focus is on self-driving cars, virtual reality and massive IoT deployments for smart factories and other verticals. But we have no way of knowing what else tomorrow’s entrepreneurs will come up with to leverage 5G networks, what will prove massively popular, and how much network capacity it will eat up.

Here’s an easy example: in the mid-2000s, the mobile industry thought the future of mobile video lay in linear broadcast TV standards designed specifically for mobile networks. In reality, the future of mobile video was YouTube, Netflix, Facebook and Amazon enabled by smartphones and 4G networks that delivered the necessary network performance that 3G simply could not deliver.

5G will be no different. That’s why Indian operators need to upgrade their network architectures to be flexible and agile enough to handle whatever the entrepreneurs of the future deign to throw at it.

As the white paper points out, the advantage that operators have with 5G today that they didn’t have with the previous Gs is the rise of network virtualization technologies like C-RAN, SDN and NFV that enable unprecedented flexibility and scalability. More to the point, that flexibility extends all the way to the optical transport layer. This is crucial because 5G cell sites will need optical fiber to support their backhaul and fronthaul requirements, and advances in eCPRI standards and packetized fronthaul will play a role in helping operators future-proof their networks.

It’s all in the white paper. You can download it by pressing the button below.

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