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COVID-19, the Metaverse: What’s next for telecom operators

COVID-19, the Metaverse: What’s next for telecom operators

There’s no debate about whether COVID-19 changed the telecom industry. With no warning, network traffic increased up to 40 percent in the first weeks of the pandemic. And traffic patterns shifted dramatically from business parks to residential neighborhoods.

The industry should be proud of how their networks did not falter during the pandemic. Networks delivered, and the world came to understand just how important communications are, and how essential this sector is as a lifeline for society.

That doesn’t mean the pressures will abate – not by a long shot. I just met with customers at my first face-to-face event since lockdowns started, and they do not believe requirements on the network will subside.

The next wave is here, and there is no time to relax.

In fact, COVID is looking like a dry run for what’s coming with the Metaverse. This 3D cyberworld will demand more: massive scale, higher quality of service, more service diversification, and even more stringent SLAs and security concerns. Most operators can remember a time when investment in networks netted returns that were reinvested for new services. For the last two decades, however, they’ve been investing in remarkably advanced ways to meet the needs of “over-the-top” apps and players, with non-commensurate returns. This next era offers a fresh opportunity for change.

So, what should communications service providers (CSPs) be thinking about as they plan for the future? Here are a few thoughts.

More automation 

First, it’s time to address the complexity building within the data center, edge, and wide area network (WAN). Services are, of course, end-to-end. That means operators need to manage workloads that are sitting in a central data center or in the edge, plus all the connectivity across the WAN. Our cloud-native IP solution, Adaptive Cloud Networking, operationalizes all the way through to manage traffic and agility requirements in the easiest way possible. Operators can move in lockstep with all of the applications hitting their networks.

More cost-efficient scale

At Nokia, we have been integrating IP and optics for years to provide optimized scale where traffic patterns demand. Until now, though, connecting routers to colored transport interfaces consumed additional space and power. The good news is, with new technology in our 400G interfaces, based on the ZR and ZR+ standards, colored interfaces plugged into the router occupy the same space as black-and-white interfaces. This widens the applicability of IP and optics convergence.

This is a very important milestone, and our customers will need to decide on a case-by-case basis how to roll this out. There are considerations around distance, upgrades, and staffing, as well as around cross-layer and domain management. Much of this can be addressed more easily with IP and optics provided by the same vendor, making Nokia the best positioned provider for the evolution of this technology.

A majority of IP rollouts are likely to remain in "black and white"  mode. Nokia's routers will make a big difference given they already support 800G interfaces — ensuring the most cost-efficient scale and capacity where traffic demands. Overall, these are significant opportunities and our customers will follow the most techno-economically beneficial path for their network.  

More security  

We have built the highest levels of security into both our optical and IP product lines. With DDoS attacks growing far more malicious, fighting these threats is high on our customers’ agenda.

Nokia can help.

Traditionally, malicious packets arrive in your network and are routed to a scrubbing center for processing. That malicious traffic then clogs your network and becomes part of the problem. Wouldn't it be nice if you were able to drop a significant percentage of those malicious packets on the spot, when they first touch a Nokia router? Our solution alleviates the problem of handling DDoS, more cost-efficiently and across all subscribers. This is just one example of many that are getting a lot of traction in the market as security gains more importance on everyone's agenda.

Lower carbon footprint

More than 80 percent of operators in a MWC survey rated energy efficiency as extremely or very important to network transformation strategies. We’ve come a long way in reducing our footprint. In fact, from the very first day that R&D starts designing a product, environmental efficiency is part of the specifications.  

We just launched the fifth generations of our network processor for IP networks and Photonic Service Engine (PSE) for optical networks. Both the FP5 and PSE-V improve power efficiency per bit by 75 percent versus the previous generation of our chips. This is possible even as we introduce big steps up in capacity across our Network Infrastructure product lines to satisfy consumer demands.

That's a tremendous achievement that speaks to how hard we thought about reducing our carbon footprint when introducing new products.  

Another design target is to extend the lifetime of products. A product that needs to be replaced every three or four years generates tremendous waste, while products that can stay in the network up to 10 years, like those from Nokia, are significantly more carbon efficient. We do this through multiple design concepts, from mixing previous-generation line cards with new-generation line cards, to microprogramming the microcode in the processors so they accommodate new standards or new protocols in IP without having to rip and replace.  

Preparing for the coming Metaverse    

We like to build products by putting ourselves in the shoes of our customers and giving them the solutions for their needs, their opportunities, their threats, and their ambitions. That's applicable across our Network Infrastructure portfolio and our customers: service providers as well as large enterprises that share the same requirements for the highest levels of scale, agility, and security with the lowest carbon footprint.

Rafael De Fermin

About Rafael De Fermin

Rafael de Fermín is Senior Vice President of the Nokia Networks Infrastructure business in Europe, responsible for portfolios spanning IP Networks, Fixed Access and Optical Networks. Dedicated to finding the most advanced technological solutions, he has gained global experience with roles posted to the UK, the US and Belgium. Now based in his native Spain, he happily devotes himself to family, hiking, cycling and the always dynamic business of keeping the world connected.

Connect with Rafael on LinkedIn

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