With 2021 soon to become yesteryear, let us look at how these 5 technologies redefined the way we worked, lived and communicated with each other.
The concept of machines ‘talking’ to each other dates back to 1965 when Lawrence Roberts connected two separate computers using a telephone line with an acoustically coupled modem and transferred digital data using packets. A second attempt was made in 1969 when ARPANET was born. It was the first real network to run on packet switching technology.
We are entering 2022. Nearly half a century later, digital technology has completely transformed the world around us. Zoom and Teams have now become classrooms and boardrooms and sometimes party places. Netflix and OTT are now our movies night outs. Technology has become means to feed our families, teach our kids, collaborate with colleagues, and entertain ourselves; all this is within the boundary of our house.
Technology will continue to change our lives in the coming years also. But with 2021 soon to become yesteryear, let us look at how these 5 technologies redefined the way we worked, lived and communicated with each other.
Creating future networks through deep fiberization
Data consumption is growing at a rapid pace. Here are some staggering statistics:
- Global data traffic is growing at 36% CAGR with more people, devices and applications accessing IP networks
- Global IP traffic could reach 396 exabytes per month by 2022
- By 2022, the video will account for 82% of all IP traffic, up from 75% today
- AR/VR data traffic will reach 4.02 exabytes per month, by 2022.
Considering the data usage and proliferation trends, the importance of a robust digital network has increased considerably. With 5G rollouts on the anvil and next-gen technologies like FTTX and O-RAN becoming mainstream, digital network creation becomes more critical.
2021 marked the beginning of a decade of digital network creation with network creators, including telcos and network operators investing heavily in digital network creation:
- Telcos increased their CapEx with Orange at Euro 3.8bn (22% increase), US operators like Verizon and AT&T at $38.5bn (7.2% increase) and Airtel at $5bn
- Cloud companies recorded the highest CapEx with Airtel 5000 cr, Yotta 900 cr and Hyperscalers like AWS and Microsoft $150bn
- The majority of these investments are intended towards building Citizen Networks and Federal Subsidies, for instance, 19000 cr viability gap fund for BharatNet,
- Massive funds committed by US Federal & state subsidies for projects like RDOF, USDA ReConnect, etc.
This all happened on the back of network architecture built on a deep fiber backbone. Digital network creators and service providers are spending across fiber cable deployment, which is driving the growth in global demand (estimated to reach 610 mnfkm by 2025). So we can say that 2021 was the year creating networks of the future with deep fiber backbone.
Increasing adoption for open RAN
Next-gen technologies like 5G and FTTx need an entirely new network architecture built on 4 key technology confluences – convergence (of wired and wireless), combination (of connectivity, compute and storage), disaggregation (of hardware and software), and edge compute. Open RAN is the answer to an open-source, virtualized and disaggregated architecture.
2021 saw an increased acceptance for Open RAN with telcos like Rakuten, Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telefónica, and Vodafone taking some firm steps:
- 50% of Telefonica networks will migrate to O-RAN by 2025
- Vodafone’s open RAN rollout in Europe will cover 2,500 sites in rural parts of the UK.
- MTN is deploying Open RAN technology to expand its network across 11 markets
- Dish Networks is now planning to build its network on Open RAN by 2023
As telcos upgrade their networks, Open RAN is becoming a feasible method to cut network-related costs and bring in more customizations. It can bring 40% CapEx and 37% OpEx saving for an overall 37% total cost of ownership (TCO) saving. By switching to ORAN based network, every year, Indian Telcos can save $1Bn which is almost equivalent to their cumulative annual IT budget.
Bridging digital divide through satellite broadband
Globally, businesses have started leveraging satellites to bring the power of affordable, high-speed internet to the masses. Starlink and OneWeb are using Low-Earth Orbit satellites to provide high-speed broadband Internet services globally, especially to remote areas where deploying towers or cables is difficult. 2021 saw Starlink deploying more than 1,800 satellites in low-earth orbit (LEO) and now it plans to increase it to 12000. It has also established a subsidiary in India and has already received over 5,000 pre-orders for its devices. Amazon’s Kuiper Project is also making inroads into the Indian satellite market. All in all ~$40 bn investment have been made by the major satellite broadband companies.
While in 2021, fiber provided high capacity and bandwidth access, LEO satellites emerged as an alternate technology to provide broadband coverage in areas where it is extremely expensive and difficult to take fiber or wireless coverage. Imagine uninterrupted digital services in one of the most difficult terrains like Spiti Valley or attending an office conference while chilling on a beach.
Going forward, satellite broadband can very well complement fiber and wireless connectivity and take the power of digital to the millions.
Enabling enterprise use cases with 5G
2021 witnessed the world deploying 5G-enabled clean networks, investing in R&D and developing a robust supply chain of equipment and components. Now, this revolutionary technology is also impacting enterprise use cases.
Here are top enterprise use cases that emerged in 2021 with 5G:
Smart Manufacturing & industrial automation – Smart factories are equipped with advanced machines like automated guided vehicles (AGVs), robots, and sensors connected to the cloud. They are leveraged to evaluate performance, manage production schedules, maintain supplies and coordinate all the activities on the factory floor. In future, it will also supplement high-speed manufacturing with greater flexibility.
Agricultural productivity – Technologies like IoT, Big Data Analytics, AI, and drones were leveraged to benefit the agriculture sector. This has been achieved by increasing yield productivity, bringing transparency across the value chain, and ensuring smarter supporting infrastructure
Safer cities – 5G ensures safety and security through a 24X7 surveillance ecosystem with CCTV and video analytics, smart LED street lights equipped with sensors, real-time police patrolling, GPS tracking enabled public transport.
Diversified services – 5G, through improved network performance enabled enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB) capabilities for applications like high-speed gaming, UHD video, and uninterrupted video calls during virtual meetings
Increasing interest in Wi-Fi6
2021 saw an extremely high interest in Wi-Fi 6 and 6E, whereby 83% of the service providers have either deployed or planning to deploy in 2022. We are probably seeing Wi-Fi at the peak of its adoption ever since its creation, thanks to technology innovation in the space and wider availability of passpoint certified devices. 40% of service providers have either already deployed or were planning to deploy OpenRoaming and Passpoint in 2021. Globally, Wi-Fi 6 hot spots will grow 13X from by 2023. Carrier grade Wi-Fi is delivering future for the smart connected home, enterprises and cities supported by the new capabilities of sensing, mesh, AR/VR and would further accelerate with Wi-Fi 7, 802.11bf and beyond.
While 2021 was the year of some reckoning for digital initiatives, 2022 will be another exciting year where technology will impact our future actions and we will see many of our imaginations turning into reality. Who knows that next time, while looking back into 2022, we would be talking not only about intelligent devices but also about intelligent spaces, intelligent cities, and a whole new intelligent world.
(Dr. Badri Gomatam is Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at STL (Sterlite Technologies Ltd) and the views expressed in this article are his own)