Network convergence is defined as the use of multiple communication modes on a single network that offers convenience and flexibility that are not possible with separate infrastructures. As we look ahead to 2018 and beyond, the attributes of a solid converged network are flexibility, reliability and cost savings. While widespread deployment of 5G is still a few years off, there is much to be done behind the scenes to ensure networks are ready for the change.
The ubiquitous need for bandwidth in our Internet-centric
world has driven landline networks, as well as more recently deployed wireless
networks, to network convergence. In the future, all networks are moving toward
delivering high speed digital data from a data or processing source, through a
high bandwidth or “broadband” network, to a wireless distribution point and
reverse for the upstream.
Now and in the Future
The next wireless network architecture evolution is
4G/LTE densification and 5G wireless.
This evolution is a convergence of the physical assets of fixed networks
and wireless access points. For
example, in North America, LTE coverage is relatively ubiquitous. Wireless “coverage” is complete for all
intents and purposes. The issue, as
consumer demand for data increases, is capacity. Wireless capacity can be increased in several
ways: better modulation techniques, more spectrum or spatially. 4G/LTE densification and potentially 5G
mobility create more capacity spatially.
More small cells closer to each other (250 meters) means that there are
less users at each access point, which effectively creates more bandwidth per
square meter. The promise of fixed
wireless 5G in the sub 6 GHz range and millimeter wave band (i.e. 28GHz)
creates more bandwidth with additional spectrum as well.
When we think of convergence, we generally are
considering these three types of networks and their typical configurations:
the multi-service organization or legacy community access television network,
there is a headend connected via router to data centers. The network consists of a high bandwidth
hybrid fiber coax network. At the
consumer/enterprise end of the network, the obvious trend is toward Wi-Fi
wireless connectivity in the home or in the office.
legacy telephony networks, central offices or mobile switching centers are
connected via high speed routers to data centers and other switching
centers. The legacy telephony network
consists of a legacy copper network, a version of FTTN (fiber to the node)
supporting some form of advanced DSL service or an fiber to the home
network. As in the HFC example, home and
business routers and Wi-Fi are typically activated.
traditional cellular network is comprised of a network of macro cells, each
independently powered and interconnected by a backhaul network of varying
types, inclusive of fiber, HFC, copper and microwave.
These three different networks all look different when
deployed due to the need to meet different communications applications. Now
they are all beginning to resemble each other to the point the networks can and
will merge into one, saving operator OPEX and CAPEX as equipment requirements
also become identical. This is network
convergence. It not only drives the networks toward looking the same, but CAPEX
will be reduced as manufactures and NFV/SDN (network function virtualization/software
defined networks) become standard.
CLICK TO TWEET: What are the three necessities for a network in 2018? Our John Chamberlain has the answer.
Network Requirements for Convergence
In a converged network, three things are required, one
of which we’ll talk about here:
The requirement for power at every wireless access point is essential, but often assumed as available or
even forgotten until the completion of network planning. Each legacy telecommunications network has
different powering considerations. But make no mistake: the requirement for
power in a converged network is real, and the importance cannot be overstated.
Legacy telephone networks, where twisted pair still exists and
maintained, can provide low levels of power for small cells. In general, for a
converged network, legacy telephony networks require utility power to be
acquired unless a wireless access point is collocated at a power cabinet.
FTTH PON networks simply do not have this access to power, apart from
the installation of a utility drop and meter installation. While a utility drop can be acquired at
reasonable cost, and perhaps in a reasonable timeframe, the installation of a
utility drop at hundreds or thousands of access point locations will quickly
become both an economic burden as well as a project bottleneck.
Estimates are that 80 percent of HFC plant miles have network power
availability due to the power on the coax.
Coax in many cases runs parallel as a back-feed from an optical node
thereby creating power availability even in fiber portions of the plant. In most cases the power availability is more
than adequate for Wi-Fi hotspots or small cells.
Two more attributes
are needed for successful convergence: backhaul and site acquisition. We’ll
explore those in Part 2.