The future of networks

CommScope Technologies Australia Pty Ltd

By Scott Vernon, Regional Sales Manager ANZ and Sth Pacific for Outdoor Wireless Networks, CommScope
Monday, 27 February, 2023

The future of networks

Bridging the digital divide will continue to be a major theme as we move further into 2023, and there is still a lot of work to be done. New research from the United Nations has revealed that there are still over 2.9 billion people around the world that are not connected to the internet. As we begin to view the internet as a utility — in the same way we would water, gas, and electricity — it’s time for us to connect the unconnected.

This is no small feat — networks are under constant pressure to cope with increasing demand, while evolving alongside new technologies and remaining flexible for further expansion. It’s critical that everyone across the world has the same access to the opportunities brought about by broadband connectivity. Closing the digital divide will be taking a vital step in facilitating the delivery of a wide range of services and applications to improve business efficiency and productivity — as well as enhancing everyday lives.

This year, network providers will continue to work closely with government agencies to bridge this divide. We’re already seeing huge funding pots allocated from various governments and agencies around the world. This investment in digital transformation and infrastructure will provide long-term and far-reaching benefits for us all — both economically and socially. Although it’s clear that we still have a long way to go when it comes to broadband rollout, the future looks promising. By working together, we can make broadband for everyone a reality.

Sustainability and ESG

As we look further into the year, sustainability will continue to be a key focus area for all industries, telecoms included. As external pressures continue to rise from consumers, governments and environmental groups, business leaders are required to act. It’s currently estimated that telcos are responsible for between 1.6 and 3.9 per cent of global greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions and without immediate action this figure will continue to grow. In order to keep in line with the Paris Agreement, telcos must reduce emissions by 45 per cent before 2030, or risk contributing to the irreversible effects of climate change.

The Australian telco market is using distinct ways to cut down on environmental impacts. Vodafone, for example, has reported saving up to 50 tonnes of cardboard or paper waste through minimising SIM card package design and there are recurring talks around the migration to eSIM cards completely to eliminate sustainable costs. Many Australian telcos have highlighted in their 2022 annual reports, taking sustainability actions which include using eSIM, operating on 100% renewable energy and the migration to net zero.

Around the world we’re continuing to see environmental, social and governance (ESG) legislation come into effect — large businesses in the UK will be required to disclose their climate-related risks by this time next year, while the European Union is in the process of implementing this legislation. In the US, President Biden has signed an executive order for the federal government to limit GHG emissions. Preparing for and complying with these various regulations will be no small task. As infrastructure providers, we are in a unique position in that our networks are made up of multiple technologies which require constant power supplies — from data centres to relay stations, masts and cells, to name a few.

Telco leaders have already set themselves ambitious internal targets to reduce power consumption and incorporate green initiatives into their organisations’ day-to-day activity. While not overlooking the energy consumption upstream and downstream in the supply chain, by demanding transparency into their partners’ footprint, leaders will be able to work together to tackle the issue of climate change head on. With the right initiatives and with sustainability top of mind, telcos can lead the way towards a greener future.

5G expansion

In today’s digital era, where internet access and fast speeds have become a necessity, there is still much work to be done in 5G development.

With talk of an impending recession and the rising cost of living, consumers are likely to be forced to start making decisions about the types of devices and network services they can afford. And, while some may downgrade or cancel their plans, others will upgrade to new devices in order to gain access to the benefits of improved digital connectivity that come with 5G.

But in the next year 5G will need to expand into more user cases and applications. For this purpose, the industry will selectively implement 5G standalone capabilities to unlock the full benefits of 5G technology, including support for latency-sensitive, high-reliability and extended IoT service capabilities.

Such benefits are huge for individuals, communities and businesses — whether that’s being able to access services online, stay in contact more easily with friends and family or run an efficient business from home or a corporate headquarters.

Additionally, from a business perspective, in the last year we’ve seen applications such as the metaverse, web3, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning drive data centre providers to focus on edge capabilities in order to provide low-latency access to data anywhere, at any time; a critical change in supporting the transition to 5G.

This year we will see how more and more data is latency-sensitive and requires faster access. Which, therefore, will continue to push the migration from large core, small edge data centre architecture to smaller core, larger edge architecture.

The future of networks and 6G development

As of right now, the development of future networks is years away and the industry is focused on developing 5G across APAC, the United States, Europe, Middle East and Africa.

Since the introduction of 5G, there have been numerous elements that have interrupted its deployment, including labour shortages and supply chain issues due to the pandemic. That said, in 2023 the focus will be about making the existing networks stronger and extending the coverage, for both consumers and businesses. In the past, 5G’s focus has been on delivering faster wireless in a more flexible setting, but to showcase its capabilities, 5G will need to expand. Meaning, 5G is a long way away from its goal of being a standalone monetisable network.

With that, public and private organisations have already begun suggesting how they believe 6G will differ from existing networks. Some have predicted that 6G will be AI native, focusing on machine learning, compared to existing cloud native 5G networks. That said, we are only at the stage where public and private organisations are just starting to conceptualise the technology necessary for demonstrating this in 6G. Who’s to say in the future we won’t be able to reconfigure our networks to improve optimisation through AI? Will the introduction of networks being able to sense their environments become a reality? Only time will tell.

While we wait, companies will continue to plan and look ahead so that, when the future network is near, the rollout will happen seamlessly. But, as we are years away from introducing 6G networks, we will focus on monetising and expanding existing 4G and 5G services, so that more people can have access to a high-quality, high-speed network.

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