by Kalar Rajendiran, Alphawave Semi (edited by Alan J Weissberger)
The telecommunications industry has experienced significant growth in recent years, driven by the increasing demand for high-speed internet and data services. This growth has created a surge in traffic on optical networks, leading to the development of new telecom network architectures that can support the increasing demand for bandwidth.
Optical networking technologies, such as coherent optics, have traditionally been developed for telecom applications. However, with the growth of hyperscale data centers and the increasing demand for high-speed networking, these technologies are now also being adopted in data center applications. Traditionally, data centers have used copper or short-range optical cables to connect servers and storage devices within the same data center. However, as data volumes continue to grow and data center interconnect (DCI) requirements increase, coherent optical networking is becoming an attractive option for data centers. With coherent optical networking, data centers can achieve higher data transmission rates over longer distances, resulting in increased data capacity and lower latency. 400G was the first data rate where hyperscale data center applications outpaced telecom applications in the use of coherent optics.
Coherent optics enables the transmission of high-speed data over long distances by using advanced signal processing techniques to mitigate the effects of signal distortion and noise. This technology is essential for supporting the growing demand for high-speed internet and data services, particularly in areas where traditional copper-based networks are not feasible. This trend is likely to continue and proliferate further going forward, driven by the ongoing growth of cloud computing, big data, AI/ML workloads and other data-intensive applications.
Another driver of the shift towards optical interconnects has been the increasing complexity of satellite networks. As satellite networks become more complex, the need for high-speed, low-latency communication between satellites becomes more important. Optical interconnects are ideal for this type of communication, as they offer very low latency and can support high-speed data transfer between satellites.
Optical telecom synergies have played a significant role in the evolution of inter-satellite communication. Many of the technologies and techniques used in optical telecom networks have been adapted for use in inter-satellite communication. Innovations in optical digital signal processing (DSP) and system automation also offer several optimization opportunities with inter-satellite interconnects. Benefits include:
- Improved Signal Quality: Optical DSP can be used to compensate for impairments in the optical signal, such as chromatic dispersion and polarization mode dispersion. This can improve the quality of the signal and reduce the bit error rate (BER), enabling high-quality communications over long distances.
- Reduced Latency: System automation can also be used to optimize the routing of data between satellites, minimizing the number of hops and reducing latency. This can improve the responsiveness of the system and enhance the user experience.
- Power-efficient Modulation Formats: Optical DSP can enable the use of power-efficient modulation formats, such as pulse-amplitude modulation (PAM), which can reduce the power consumption of the inter-satellite links while maintaining high data rates.
- Energy-efficient Signal Processing: Optical DSP can also be optimized to perform signal processing operations more energy-efficiently. For example, parallel processing and low-power digital signal processing techniques can reduce the power consumption of the signal processing circuitry.
At the recent Optical Fiber Communication (OFC) conference, Alphawave Semi (located in London, UK) showcased its ZeusCORE XLR test chip during the interoperability demonstration organized by the Optical Internetworking Forum (OIF). Alphawave Semi executives Loukas Paraschis, VP of Business Development and Tony Chan Carusone, CTO, presented on high-speed connectivity leadership. Their presentations touched on the growing synergies and optimization opportunities of inter-satellite interconnects and optical telecom through innovations in optical DSP and system automation.
As the volume of data traffic on optical networks continues to increase, it is essential to ensure that the cost of implementing and maintaining these networks remains affordable. This requires a delicate balance between increasing volume and decreasing costs, which can only be achieved through innovation and the development of highly-integrated co-designed solutions. These solutions combine multiple technologies and functions into a single device, reducing the complexity and cost of optical network infrastructure. This approach enables the development of more efficient, cost-effective optical networks that can meet the growing demand for bandwidth and high-speed data transmission.
To learn more about the ZeusCORE, visit the product page.
Cable Labs: Interoperable 200-Gig coherent optics via Point-to-Point Coherent Optics (P2PCO) 2.0 specs
Ericsson and MediaTek have set a new 5G uplink speed record of 440 Mbps in low-band and mid-band spectrum using Uplink Carrier Aggregation. That uplink speed was achieved in an Ericsson lab. The test was performed with Ericsson’s Radio Access Network (RAN) Compute Baseband 6648 and a mobile device using a MediaTek Dimensity 9200 flagship 5G smartphone chipset.
More precisely, the combination used was 50MHz FDD n1 and 100MHz TDD n77. By aggregating these two bands, communications service providers can considerably increase their uplink speeds, resulting in better network performance and user experience. The fast uplink speed brings better, smoother experiences for the likes of video conference users, streamers, and their audience with more frames per second and higher image resolution. The 440 Mbps 5G upload speed achieved in the lab compares to an average of 26.78 Mbps outdoors and 22.98 Mbps indoors, as per a Cellsmart survey.
Sibel Tombaz, Head of Product Line 5G RAN, Ericsson, said: ”Super-fast uplink speeds make a big difference in the user experience. From lag-free live streaming, video conferencing and AR/VR apps, to more immersive gaming and extended reality (XR) technologies. The 440 Mbps upload speed achieved by Ericsson and MediaTek will help make that difference. We are also continuously designing innovative solutions for optimizing 5G networks so our customers can make the best use of their spectrum assets.”
Service providers are seeking innovative ways of boosting capacity while using existing spectrum efficiently to meet growing demands for wireless data and applications. This is where carrier aggregation comes in, optimizing the service provider’s spectrum assets to bring to users better coverage, increased capacity, and higher data speeds.
HC Hwang, General Manager of Wireless Communication System and Partnership at MediaTek, said: “The successful result of combining Ericsson’s state-of-the-art 5G Baseband and MediaTek’s flagship smartphone chip has achieved another 5G industry milestone, and paves the way for superior mobile experiences to benefit users every day.” Uplink speed is becoming more crucial with the expected uptake of
gaming, XR, and video-based apps. For example, as AR devices gain popularity with larger augmentation objects, rendering becomes more demanding. This increases the demand on networks to deliver higher throughput and lower latency.
Uplink speed is becoming more crucial with the expected uptake of gaming, XR, and video-based apps. For example, as AR devices gain popularity with larger augmentation objects, rendering becomes more demanding. This increases the demand on networks to deliver higher throughput and lower latency.
Earlier this year, AT&T boasted that it had completed what was believed to be the first 5G standalone (SA) uplink 2-carrier aggregation data connection in the U.S.
The connection was made at its Redmond, Washington, lab, where they achieved upload speeds of over 120 Mbps with a combination of 850 MHz and 3.7 GHz spectrum.
In May, T-Mobile reported reaching uplink speeds over 200 Mbps in a 5G data call using uplink CA; in that case, they used T-Mobile’s live commercial 5G SA network as opposed to a lab environment. T-Mobile used 2.5 GHz and 1.9 GHz bands.
UK market research firm Cellsmart finds that 5G network performance has greatly improved over the last 12 months. Real-world testing shows new peak download and upload speeds on 5G
networks. The industry is on the cusp of the gigabit era in cellular networks with these speeds moving from the lab to field in 2023.
Cellsmart survey results revealed the global average outdoor download speed for 5G is 210.05 Mbps, compared to 182.46 Mbps indoors. 5G download speeds show a significant improvement over 4G with an increase of 486.57% (outdoor) and 694% (indoor).
Average upload speeds continue to lag behind download speeds with almost no improvement from 4G to 5G in indoor tests. Both 4G and 5G upload speeds remain significantly lower than download speeds. 5G upload speeds as a percentage of download speeds is 17%, compared to 74% on 4G. Download and upload speeds remain hyper-asymmetrical in 5G, which needs to improve to support enterprise use cases.
The survey results also revealed how latency is negatively impacted in indoor settings, with average 5G latency being 14.58ms lower indoors than outdoors. Tests run in Norway and the Philippines had outdoor speed tests that showed latency of less than 10ms, followed closely by US (10ms), China (11ms) and France (11ms). Average latency indoors was 15.32 higher on 4G than outdoors.
At the city level, Norway’s Oslo leads the way, while Spain’s Cerdanyola del Vallès and Bilbao come in second and third, while fourth placed Munich also recorded a 5G download speed in excess of 1 Gbps.
“Europe is ready for fixed wireless access,” declared Toby Forman, CEO at SmartCIC, owner of Cellsmart.
“Our test results show that 5G is beginning to mature into a justifiable investment that is ready to serve as an alternative to wired broadband and LEOs in multiple countries throughout Europe,” Forman said. “With performance rates that rival those of broadband and LEO, cellular should be considered when connecting enterprise locations. It’s a viable option.”
Cellsmart earlier this month reported that 5G upload speeds are insufficient for industrial applications.
As Cellsmart’s mission is, in its own words, “liberating enterprise from the constraints of fixed line connectivity,” it clearly has a vested interest in the results of its own study. It helps enterprises hook up to Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) solutions, essentially. However, the data still makes interesting reading against a backdrop of mobile network operators spending billions on the rollout of 5G networks.
Indian network operator Reliance Jio is said to be in negotiations with Tesla for the deployment of a private 5G network for the latter’s manufacturing plant in India, according to India press reports. The reports noted that the electric vehicle manufacturer is seeking to get the permit to set up its first manufacturing location in India. As part of these discussions, Reliance Jio Infocomm has allegedly offered Tesla to set up a 5G private network for its future manufacturing facility in the Asian nation. The network is expected to support connected car solutions and automated production processes.
A report by Financial Express suggests that the Mukesh Ambani-headed telco is in early talks with Tesla for the setup of the private network, and further progress will only happen if Tesla finalizes its plans to set up a manufacturing plant in the country. “The talks between Jio and Tesla are at a preliminary stage, and any further developments are expected only when the latter firms up its plans for setting up a manufacturing unit in India,” an unnamed industry source revealed to the publication.
The report suggests that Jio is also reaching out to firms across automobile, healthcare, manufacturing, and other industries with possible use cases of 5G, offering to build and manage their private networks. The captive private 5G network setup from the telco will help these firms achieve high data speed and data carrying capacity within their premises, which is not possible if they depend on public networks. Notably, the private 5G solutions will also help industries benefit from the next technological advancement – Industry 4.0 – a new technology wave that is said to revolutionize the way companies manufacture, improve, and distribute their products.
In December 2022, rival operator Bharti Airtel announced a partnership with Indian company Tech Mahindra to set up a private 5G network at Mahindra’s Chakan facility. With this collaboration, the Chakan facility became the first 5G-enabled manufacturing unit in India.
Reliance Jio Infocomm has already deployed its 5G service in 4,786 towns and cities across 36 states in India, according to the carrier’s website. Jio has already deployed over 50,000 base stations and 300,000 cells to support its 5G service, according to recent press reports.
Shyam Mardikar, Jio’s CTO recently said that the company expected to complete full urban coverage before the end of May. Jio started to deploy its 5G Standalone (SA) network in October 2022 and has recently stated that it is on track to cover all towns and cities by December 2023. The telco had initially launched the beta trial of its 5G services in Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Varanasi.
Jio is offering the 5G connectivity on an invitational basis, with users living in 5G-enabled cities who have 5G compatible smartphones receiving invitations.
Last year, Reliance Jio Infocomm announced 5G contracts with network equipment vendors Ericsson and Nokia. The deal with Ericsson marks the first partnership between Jio and Ericsson for radio access network deployment in the country.
By Logan Kugler (edited by Alan J Weissberger)
Companies making and using IoT sensors can have a high degree of confidence their technology uses the best security features and practices if they adhere to established, credible security standards. There are plenty of security standards that IoT devices can—or should—follow. Some are related to how IoT devices use networks and transmit data. Some are related to the underlying technologies IoT devices rely upon (such as Wi-Fi). Others offer comprehensive guidance on how to create and use IoT devices in a secure way.
One well-known IoT standard is ISO/IEC 30141 which “provides a standardized IoT Reference Architecture using a common vocabulary, reusable designs, and industry best practices.” Another IoT standard, TS 103645 from ETSI aims to create a security baseline for Web-connected devices, including guidelines for password usage, software updates, and user data standards for consumer IoT devices.
In another example, the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has created a list of six prescribed security characteristics that manufacturers should incorporate into IoT devices. The list includes security features such as device identification, device configuration features, data protection features, logical access to interfaces, adequate software and firmware updates, and adequate cybersecurity event logging.
There are dozens of organizations that publish helpful standards to guide IoT manufacturers and device customers on how to design, manufacture, and use IoT sensors and sensor-enabled devices in the safest way possible. However, the diversity of organizations and standards also presents problems.
Some standards organizations may aim to publish universal standards across different IoT technologies, while others may only publish standards for certain countries or devices and technologies. While these organizations are usually highly credible and undergo rigorous processes to ensure their standards are comprehensive, many such standards are not legally binding. However, there is no single, well accepted standard for IoT security. The existing standards are not always designed for the unique risks IoT technologies face, says Izzat Alsmadi, a computer science professor at Texas A&M University in San Antonio, who does work on IoT security. Existing standards may not adequately apply to significant numbers of IoT sensors, he explained, and some IoT devices and networks use proprietary technology that does not follow more widely accepted or used industry standards.
“Today’s IoT standards are relevant, but not enough and in some cases not up to date or not up to security challenges,” says Alsmadi. That’s because some of today’s existing security mechanisms were initially designed for desktop computers and are difficult to implement on resource-constrained IoT devices, he says. There also is the problem of compliance. Standards are often voluntary—and many companies do not adhere to them due to business pressures.
“Currently, the IoT segment sacrifices security due to resource allocation and price,” says Marion Marincat, founder and CEO of Mumbli, an IoT company. It is often faster and cheaper to limit security options in order to get to market, he says. As such, the standards for IoT mainly end up being adopted by the companies with deep-enough pockets and wide-enough competitive moats to afford to implement better security in their devices.
“Although there are a lot of methods to design low-cost devices with security in mind, business decisions usually push back the implementation for these solutions in order to speed up the route to market or reduce the price of devices even further,” says Marincat.
The issues with IoT sensor standards have larger implications for the overall security of the Internet of Things.
“The Internet of Things is very vulnerable in comparison with other categories of information systems,” says Alsmadi, because so many IoT applications are publicly visible and can be remotely controlled.
These vulnerabilities become even more pronounced as the adoption of IoT grows, especially as the industrial Internet of Things becomes a growing attack vector.
“The biggest change in operational technology systems over the past decade is that they have recently become more vulnerable to attacks from the outside as they are moving away from isolated, air-gapped environments and embracing more automation and digitally connected devices and systems,” says Fortinet’s Nelson.
Industrial IoT devices often run on hardware with little or no management interface and often are not able to be upgraded in the field. Physically, IoT devices in industrial use-cases frequently are installed in hard-to-reach or publicly inaccessible places (such as on top of a building). As such, they must be able to operate unattended for long periods and be resistant to physical tampering, he says.
“An attack on industrial IoT, especially on a device or system used to monitor critical operations and processes, can have a very significant impact on not only the business itself but also on the environment, even on the health and safety of staff and the public at large,” Nelson says.
Marincat advocates rolling out minimum standards to broad categories of IoT devices, but acknowledges many manufacturers will still see complying with such standards as a luxury in a competitive marketplace.
However, even with smarter standards approaches, making security updates to combined IoT software/hardware can be slower and more complicated than bug fixes and security updates for software alone. One possible fix is having companies adopt smarter risk-mitigation policies in how they use IoT devices, says Nelson. Companies should consider employing a zero-trust access (ZTA) model that verifies users and devices before every application session. “Zero-trust access confirms that users and devices meet the organization’s policy to access that application and dramatically improves the organization’s overall risk posture,” he says.
Nelson also recommends companies use micro-segmentation in their networks. This approach segments and isolates attack surfaces into specific zones. Data flows are then controlled into these zones. The result is companies can limit attacks to a small subset of the business, minimizing the chance bad actors move laterally through networks into other core business functions.
Even basic risk mitigation techniques can help. Other popular risk mitigation techniques employed by businesses include encrypting internet connections, using alternate networks in addition to primary ones, and investing in higher-quality (and more costly) devices from companies that have, in turn, invested in stronger IoT security. Despite all this, however, the vast majority of organizations can still expect at least one cybersecurity attack attempt in a given year. Research from Fortinet found only 6% of organizations experienced no cybersecurity intrusions in 2022.
Putting better cybersecurity measures in place still requires proactive, voluntary compliance from companies—compliance that has not always been forthcoming in the past. While the need for speed may win markets, it is not going away as a major obstacle to safer IoT devices and networks. That leaves experts skeptical about just how much of the problem can be solved by expanded standards—and how much is a result of human nature and incentives in the technology sector. “We tend to rush and enjoy advances in technology, then deal with security problems later on or when they become serious,” says Alsmadi.
Communications of the ACM, June 2023, Vol. 66 No. 6, Pages 14-16
2022 State of Operational Technology and Cybersecurity Report, Fortinet, Jun. 21, 2022, https://bit.ly/3G6HTDO
IoT Standards and Protocols Explained, Behrtech, https://behrtech.com/blog/iot-standards-and-protocols-explained
Number of IoT connected devices worldwide 2019–2021, with forecasts to 2030, Statista, Nov. 22, 2022, https://www-statista-com.libproxy.scu.edu/statistics/1183457/iot-connected-devices-worldwide
Multimillion-dollar undersea/subsea fiber optic cable projects have become the latest focal point of geopolitical tensions in Asia as China intensifies its highly contested claims over the South China Sea, writes Nikkei Asia’s Singapore correspondent Tsubasa Suruga. These cables are crucial for keeping information flowing throughout the region and across the Pacific. Most countries require builders to get approval if they plan to lay cables in their territorial waters, but not in their exclusive economic zones, which extend 200 nautical miles out from a country’s coast.
China, however, insists that projects within its self-proclaimed “nine-dash line” — an area encompassing virtually the entire South China Sea — need Beijing’s approval. A nonobjection letter must be obtained from China’s People’s Liberation Army before the formal application process can even begin. Beijing imposes the policy even though an international tribunal found in 2016 that the nine-dash line lacked a legal basis.
“It is no secret the whole industry is more confronted by politics,” said Takahisa Ohta, senior director of the submarine network division at NEC, one of the world’s top three suppliers of subsea cables. Some of the companies involved, like Singtel, are looking for ways to diversify their routes.
Tay Yang Hwee, a 30-year industry veteran who heads subsea cable development at the Singaporean telecom provider, said it is “exploring alternate paths” for connecting data hubs, but he admits it is “very difficult” to avoid the South China Sea as a whole.
The Singapore-to-France cable would have been HMN Tech’s biggest such project to date, cementing it as the world’s fastest-rising subsea cable builder, and extending the global reach of the three Chinese telecom firms that had intended to invest in it.
But the U.S. government, concerned about the potential for Chinese spying on these sensitive communications cables, ran a successful campaign to flip the contract to SubCom through incentives and pressure on consortium members. It’s one of at least six private undersea cable deals in the Asia-Pacific region over the past four years where the U.S. government either intervened to keep HMN Tech from winning that business, or forced the rerouting or abandonment of cables that would have directly linked U.S. and Chinese territories.
SubCom had no comment on the SeaMeWe-6 battle, and HMN Tech did not respond to requests for comment. In a statement last year about infrastructure projects, the White House briefly noted that the U.S. government helped SubCom to win the Singapore-to-France cable contract, without giving details. China’s foreign ministry did not respond to requests for comment. China Telecom, China Mobile, China Unicom and Orange did not respond to requests for comment. Microsoft declined to comment.
Undersea cables are central to U.S.-China technology competition. Across the globe, there are more than 400 cables running along the seafloor, carrying over 95% of all international internet traffic, according to TeleGeography, a Washington-based telecommunications research firm. These data conduits, which transmit everything from emails and banking transactions to military secrets, are vulnerable to sabotage attacks and espionage, a U.S. government official and two security analysts told Reuters.
The potential for undersea cables to be drawn into a conflict between China and self-ruled Taiwan was thrown into sharp relief last month. Two communications cables were cut that connected Taiwan with its Matsu islands, which sit close to the Chinese coast. The islands’ 14,000 residents were disconnected from the internet.
Taiwanese authorities said they suspected a Chinese fishing vessel and a Chinese freighter caused the disruption. However, they stopped short of calling it a deliberate act and said there was no direct evidence showing the Chinese ships were to blame. China, which considers Taiwan a breakaway province, has ratcheted up military and political efforts to force the island to accept its dominion.
China seeks to control Asian subsea cable systems; SJC2 delayed, Apricot and Echo avoid South China Sea
Deutsche Telekom’s VP of technology strategy, Ahmed Hafez, co-hosted the DSP Leaders World Forum 2023 session entitled “Creating a framework for the AI-native telco” this week in the UK. He said that AI will deliver the telecom sector its biggest ever challenges and opportunities, but to take advantage of the benefits that AI will bring the industry needs to figure out a way to evolve from being opportunistic to becoming AI-native.
To date, the telecom sector has been exploring the potential of AI without looking at the bigger picture, and that holistic view needs to be taken in order to figure out the best way to go, Hafez believes.
Like so many other pundits and cheerleaders, Hafez regards the impact of AI as “the biggest transformation we will ever encounter.” And this is not only about the magnitude of what AI will do, but also the pace – it will outpace our understanding of things so fast, so we need to be ready…
“Previous transformations have [happened at an] accommodating pace – they were not changing so fast that we couldn’t comprehend or adapt to them. In order for us to adapt to AI, we need to transform as individuals, not [just as] companies. On an individual level you need to be able to comprehend what’s going on and pick the right information.”
To illustrate the magnitude of the challenges that AI will deliver to the telecom sector, Hafez presented a few supporting statistics:
- The AI market was worth $136bn in 2022 and is set to be worth $1.8tn by 2030
- The telecom AI market alone was worth $2.2bn in 2022
- Global private investment in AI reached $91.9bn in 2022
- AI delivers a 40% increase in business productivity, according to a study by Accenture (Hafez thinks that number is too low, that productivity gains will be much higher)
- There are already thousands of AI-focused companies – by 2018 there were already nearly 3,500
- AI will drive the need for 500x compute power between now and 2030 (“What does that mean for telcos? How can we deal with that?” asked Hafez)
- In terms of human resources, 63% of executives believe their biggest skills shortage is in AI expertise
- Three in every four CEOs believe they don’t have enough transparency when it comes to AI and are concerned about skewed bias in the AI sector
So a lot of eye-opening trends that should give the telecom industry food for thought, especially when it comes to attracting employees with AI skills. “How will we get the people we need if there are thousands of AI companies” attracting the experts, he asked.
Hafez also related how he encountered what he described as some “depressing” information about how unattractive telecom operators are to potential employees, especially those of a younger generation. Of the top-50 most attractive companies in advanced economies for employees, none of them are telcos: “This is a worrying trend… we need to become more attractive to the younger generations,” he noted.
The telecom industry began exploring the use of AI in earnest less than 10 years ago, noted the DT executive, when it started looking into its potential with proofs of concept and trials. “Then we took the opportunistic approach to AI – use case-based, where you find a good use case, you implement it and it’s concrete. There’s nothing bad about that, as it’s the right thing to do… and we’ve been doing that for a while and it’s delivering value. That’s fine as long as you are doing a few tens of use cases.”
But using AI at scale, which is what the industry needs to do to become AI-native, where AI is fully integrated into everything and becomes part of all operations and decision-making processes, throws up a lot of new questions about how the sector progresses from being opportunistic to becoming AI-native – what are the missing steps, Hafez asked?
“Once we start to ask, what would the future be with AI in everything we do, in every appliance, in every application, in every network component, it would be over the top. You would have data that is being worked on by five or six AI engines, creating different things…. You would have not just tens of use cases, but hundreds, or thousands. Are we prepared for that? Are we ready to embrace such scale? Are we building AI for scale? I don’t think so.
“We are building AI trying to get things done – which is okay. But in order for us to get through this journey, through this transformation, what stages do we need to pass through? What are the steps that we need to take to… make sure that the problem is clear. If we have a huge amount of AI, do we run the risk of conflicting AI? So if I have AI for energy efficiency and I have another one that actually improves network quality, could they create conflicts? Can they be a problem? If I have AI that is on the optical layer and AI on the IP layer, can they make different decisions because they consume data differently?
“If we look at things from this perspective, do we need, within our organisations, another stream of hiring people and the need to upskill leadership? Do we need to upskill ourselves to help our teams? What do we need to do? If you look at technologies, do we need to change the perspective of how, for example, the 3GPP is building the standards in order to make sure the standards are AI friendly? Do we need separate standard bodies to look at AI? What would be their functions? What would be their scope?” asked Hafez.
And does the industry need a framework that can provide guidance so that the telecom sector can develop in the same direction with its use of AI?
“This is the discussion we want to have, and I hope the message is clear – we have a great opportunity, but opportunities do not come without challenges,” he cautioned.
Hafez set the scene for a great discussion with his fellow speakers, Juniper’s chief network strategist Neil McRae, Rakuten Symphony CMO Geoff Hollingworth, Nokia’s CTO for Europe Azfar Aslam, and Digital Catapult’s CTO Joe Butler – and it’s fair to say there were differences of opinion! You can view the full session on demand here.
AI is being used to analyze data from network sensors to identify potential problems before they occur. This allows telecom providers to take proactive steps to fix problems and prevent outages. For example, companies are using AI to predict network congestion and proactively reroute traffic to avoid outages. 5G networks began to roll out in 2019 and are predicted to have more than 1.7 billion subscribers worldwide – 20% of global connections — by 2025. AI is essential for helping CSPs build self-optimizing networks (SONs) to support this growth. These allow operators to automatically optimize network quality based on traffic information by region and time zone. AI in the telecom industry uses advanced algorithms to look for patterns within the data, enabling telecoms to both detect and predict network anomalies. As a result of using AI in telecom, CSPs can proactively fix problems before customers are negatively impacted.
Customer service automation and Virtual Assistants:
AI-powered chatbots can answer customer questions and resolve issues without the need for human intervention. This can free up customer service representatives to focus on more complex issues. For example, Verizon is using AI to power its Virtual Assistant, which can answer customer questions about billing, service plans, and technical support.
AI-driven predictive analytics are helping telecoms provide better services by utilizing data, sophisticated algorithms, and machine learning techniques to predict future results based on historical data. This means operators can use data-driven insights to monitor the state of equipment and anticipate failure based on patterns. Implementing AI in telecoms also allows CSPs to proactively fix problems with communications hardware, such as cell towers, power lines, data center servers, and even set-top boxes in customers’ homes. In the short term, network automation and intelligence will enable better root cause analysis and prediction of issues. Long term, these technologies will underpin more strategic goals, such as creating new customer experiences and dealing efficiently with emerging business needs.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) for Telecoms:
CSPs have vast numbers of customers engaged in millions of daily transactions, each susceptible to human error. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a form of business process automation technology based on AI. RPA can bring greater efficiency to telecom functions by allowing telcos to more easily manage their back-office operations and large volumes of repetitive and rules-based actions. RPA frees up CSP staff for higher value-add work by streamlining the execution of complex, labor-intensive, and time-consuming processes, such as billing, data entry, workforce management, and order fulfillment. According to Statista, the RPA market is forecast to grow to 13 billion USD by 2030, with RPA achieving almost universal adoption within the next five years. Telecom, media, and tech companies expect cognitive computing to “substantially transform” their companies within the next few years.
Telecoms are harnessing AI’s powerful analytical capabilities to combat instances of fraud. AI and machine learning algorithms can detect anomalies in real-time, effectively reducing telecom-related fraudulent activities, such as unauthorized network access and fake profiles. The system can automatically block access to the fraudster as soon as suspicious activity is detected, minimizing the damage. With industry estimates indicating that 90% of operators are targeted by scammers on a daily basis – amounting to billions in losses every year – this AI application is especially timely for CSPs.
AI in telecommunications has a powerful ability to unify and make sense out of a wide range of data, such as devices, networks, mobile applications, geolocation data, detailed customer profiles, service usage, and billing data. Using AI-driven data analysis, telecoms can increase their rate of subscriber growth and average revenue per user (ARPU) through smart upselling and cross-selling of their services. By anticipating customer needs using real-time context, telecoms can make the right offer at the right time over the right channel.
Allied Market Research: Global AI in telecom market forecast to reach $38.8 by 2031 with CAGR of 41.4% (from 2022 to 2031)
The case for and against AI in telecommunications; record quarter for AI venture funding and M&A deals
Kim Woojune, President and General Manager of Samsung Networks [1.] asserted that software capabilities will change the telecommunications landscape, as the South Korean tech giant bets on virtualized services. Kim said that future networks will be transformed more into software-centric architecture, versus the hardware-based networks the world has built and relied upon for about 150 years.
Note 1. Kim was appointed president and general manager of Samsung’s Networks business in December 2022
“Software has become a key driver of innovation, and this transition to software is also a natural shift in the networks industry,” Kim said in a speech at Nikkei’s Future of Asia forum. “Software brings more flexibility, more creativity and more intelligence,” he added.
Kim said the next transition in the network business has already started, as global telecom operators such as Verizon in the U.S., and KDDI and Rakuten in Japan are building their virtualized networks.
In February, Samsung announced that it was selected by KDDI to provide its cloud-native 5G Standalone (SA) Core network for the operator’s commercial network across Japan. The company said that this will usher in a new generation of services and applications available to KDDI’s consumers and enterprise customers — including smart factories, automated vehicles, cloud-based online gaming and multi-camera live streaming of sports events. Samsung and KDDI also successfully tested network slicing over their 5G SA Core network.
The Samsung executive asked global governments to embrace the shift, saying their role “should be to maximize the benefit of this extra use.”
Samsung is also winning contracts with cable providers, like Comcast, where it’s working to deploy 5G RAN solutions to support its efforts to deliver 5G access to consumers and business customers in the U.S. using CBRS and 600 MHz spectrum, Kim noted. Comcast is the first operator to use Samsung’s new 5G CBRS Strand Small Cell, a compact and lightweight solution designed to be installed on outdoor cables. It consists of a radio, baseband, cable modem and antennas, all in one form factor. The solution is also equipped with Samsung’s in-house designed chipset, a second-generation 5G modem SoC, which delivers increased capacity and performance.
KDDI claims world’s first 5G Standalone (SA) Open RAN site using Samsung vRAN and Fujitsu radio units
In the 1stQ2023, the global wireless infrastructure market declined 3% YoY and 17% sequentially, according to LightCounting. Starting a new year with a sequential decline is typical but a YoY drop is abnormal and suggests a declining pattern is in the making. This trend confirms that we have entered the post-peak era.
While the U.S. market posted its steepest drop, the strong 5G rollouts in India and a 5G rebound in Japan, along with stable and sustained activity in EMEA and China, respectively, were not enough to keep the wireless infrastructure market out of the decline. On the open vRAN front, DISH in the U.S., Rakuten Mobile in Japan, and a few Rakuten Symphony customers kept the market flat YoY and produced double digit sequential growth.
Despite a weak quarter, Huawei retook its lead at the expense of Ericsson, which reported weak 1Q23 results that led to a market share loss. In the meantime, Nokia benefited from the 2 leaders’ market share loss and gained 1% point. ZTE also gained share at the expense of Huawei and Ericsson while Samsung’s share remained stable.
“We have passed the 5G peak and have entered the second year of a disinvestment cycle. The 5G investment cycle that started in 2019 and ended in 2021 was driven by hundreds of communications service providers (CSPs), including the world’s largest cellular footprints (i.e., China). At the moment, India’s massive 5G rollout is preventing the situation from getting worse but this will end soon,” said Stéphane Téral, Chief Analyst at LightCounting Market Research.
As a result, this year, LightCounting expects the wireless infrastructure market to slightly decline in 2023 (compared to 2022) with India in the lead. In the long run, our service provider 20-year wireless infrastructure footprint pattern analysis points to a 2022-2028 CAGR of -3% characterized by low single-digit declines through 2027, which appears to be the bottom leading to flatness or slight growth in 2028. In fact, we expect 5G to slightly pick up in 2027, driven by upgrades needed to prepare networks for 6G. Given the ongoing 6G activity, we believe something labeled 6G will be deployed in 2028.
Highlights from Dell’Oro’s 1Q 2023 RAN report:
- Top 5 RAN 1Q 2023 RAN suppliers include Huawei, Ericsson, Nokia, ZTE, and Samsung.
- Top 4 RAN 1Q 2023 RAN suppliers outside of China include Ericsson, Nokia, Huawei, and Samsung.
- Nokia recorded the highest growth rate among the top 5 suppliers, while Ericsson and Samsung both lost some ground in the first quarter.
- The report also shows that Nokia’s RAN revenue share outside of China has been trending upward over the past five quarters.
- The Asia Pacific RAN market has been revised upward to reflect the higher baseline in India.
Open RAN and vRAN highlights from Dell’Oro’s 1Q 2023 RAN report:
- After more than doubling in 2022, Open RAN revenue growth was in the 10 to 20 percent range in the first quarter while the vRAN market advanced 20 to 30 percent.
- Positive developments in the Asia Pacific region were dragged down by more challenging comparisons in the North America region.
- Short-term projections remain unchanged – Open RAN is still projected to account for 6 to 10 percent of the 2023 RAN market.
- Top 5 Open RAN suppliers by revenue for the 2Q 2022 to 1Q 2023 period include Samsung, NEC, Fujitsu, Rakuten Symphony, and Mavenir.
|Historical data accounts for sales of the following vendors:|
|Vendor||Segments||Source of Information|
|Affirmed Networks (acquired by Microsoft, April 2020)||vEPC, 5GC||Estimates|
|Altiostar||vRAN (CU, DU)||Estimates|
|ASOCS||vRAN (DU)||None, supplies other RAN/vRAN vendors|
|Baicell||RAN (RU)||None, supplies other RAN/vRAN vendors|
|Benetel||Open RAN (RU)||None, supplies other RAN/vRAN vendors|
|Cisco||EPC, vEPC, 5GC||Survey data and estimates|
|China Information and Communication Technologies Group (CICT)||RAN||Estimates|
|Comba Telecom||RAN/vRAN (RU)||None, supplies other RAN/vRAN vendors|
|CommScope (acquired Phluido vRAN patents, October 2020)||vRAN (RU, DU)||Estimates|
|Dell||vRAN (DU)||None, supplies other RAN/vRAN vendors|
|Ericsson||RAN, vRAN, 2/3G Core, EPC, vEPC, 5GC||Estimates|
|Fairwaves||RAN/vRAN (RU)||None, supplies other RAN/vRAN vendors|
|Fujitsu||RAN||Survey data and estimates|
|HPE||2G/3G core, 5GC||Estimates|
|Huawei||RAN, vRAN, 2/3G Core, EPC, vEPC, 5GC||Survey data and estimates|
|KMW||RAN/vRAN (RU)||None, supplies other RAN/vRAN vendors|
|Kontron||vRAN (DU)||None, supplies other RAN/vRAN vendors|
|Mavenir (acquired ip.access, September 2020)||vEPC, vRAN, 5GC||Survey data and estimates|
|Metaswitch (acquired by Microsoft, May 2020)||5GC, vEPC and 2G/3G core||Estimates|
|MTI Mobile||vRAN (RU)||None, supplies other RAN/vRAN vendors|
|Node-H||vRAN (small cells)||Estimates|
|Nokia||RAN, vRAN, 2/3G Core, EPC, vEPC, 5GC||Survey data and estimates|
|NEC (including Blue Danube)||RAN, vRAN (RU), EPC, 5GC||Survey data and estimates|
|Parallel Wireless||vRAN (CU, DU)||Estimates|
|Pivotal||RAN/vRAN (RU/mmWave repeater)||Estimates|
|Quanta Cloud Technology (QCT)||vRAN (DU)||None, supplies other RAN/vRAN vendors|
|Ribbon Communications||2G/3G core||Survey data and estimates|
|Samsung||RAN, vRAN, vEPC, 5GC||Estimates|
|Silicom||Open RAN (DU)||None, supplies other RAN/vRAN vendors|
|SuperMicro Computer||vRAN (DU)||None, supplies other RAN/vRAN vendors|
|Verana Networks||RAN/vRAN (RU/mmWave)||Estimates|
|ZTE||RAN, vRAN, 2/3G Core, EPC, vEPC, 5GC||Survey data and estimates|
The number of 5G subscriptions will surge from 934 million in 2022 to 3.1 billion in 2027 -a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 27% – according to a study from ABI Research. Further, 5G traffic is forecast to increase from 293 Exabytes (EB) in 2022 to 2,515 EB in 2027, at a CAGR of 54%.
ABI’s forecast is largely based on an increase in 5G Core (5GC) networks. To date, more than 35 5GC networks are operating in 5G standalone (SA) mode. 5GC is expected to lead to a growth in devices connected to the network and the traffic routed through it.
“5GC holds potential for operators to monetize further existing cellular connectivity for traditional mobile broadband (MBB) use cases but also offers scope for operators to expand cellular capabilities in new domains. Additionally, 5GC also offers innovation potential for committed telcos to establish new operating models for growth outside of the consumer domain,” explains Don Alusha, Senior Analyst, 5G Core and Edge Networks, at ABI Research.
5GC presents Communications Service Providers (CSPs) with a fluid and dynamic landscape. In this landscape, there is no static offering (requirements constantly change), no uniform offering (one shoe does not fit all), and no singular endpoint (one terminal with multiple applications). 5GC guides the industry into edge deployments and topologies. CSPs step out of the four walls of either their virtual Data Center (DC) or physical DC to place network functionality and compute as close to their customers as possible. This constitutes decentralization, a horizontal spread of network assets and technology estate that calls for a ‘spread’ in the operating model.
The shift from a centralized business (e.g. with 4G EPC) to a decentralized business (5G SA core network) stands to be a significant trend in the coming years for the telecoms industry. Against that backdrop, the market will demand that CSPs learn to drive value bottom-up. “What customers need” is the starting point for companies like AT&T, BT, Deutsche Telekom, Orange, and Vodafone. In other words, in this emerging landscape, there will be enterprise-specific, value-based, and niche engagements where the business strategy sets the technology agenda. So, it is rational to conclude that a “bottom-up” approach may be required to deliver unique value and expand business scope. That said, CSPs may be better equipped to drive sustained value creation if they learn to build their value proposition, starting from enterprise and industrial edge and extending to core networks.
“A 5G cloud packet core can potentially unlock new transactions that supplement existing volume-centered modus operandi with a local, bottom-up value play for discrete engagements. But the power of a bottom-up model is not enough. To monetize a 5G cloud packet core at scale, some of the existing top-down intelligence is needed too. Learning how to operate in this hybrid top-down and the emerging bottom-up, horizontally stratified ecosystem is a journey for NTT Docomo, Rakuten Mobile, Singtel, Softbank, and Telstra, among other CSPs. In the impending cellular market, an effective and efficient operating model must contain both control and lack of control, both centralization and decentralization and a hybrid of bottom-up plus some of the ‘standard’ top-down intelligence. The idea is that CSPs’ operating model should flexibly fit and change in line with new growing market requirements, or new growth forays may hit a roadblock,” Alusha concludes.
It’s critically important to understand that the 3GPP defined 5G core network protocols and network interfaces enable the entire mobile system. Those include call and session control, mobility management, service provisioning, etc. Moreover, the 3GPP defined 5G features can ONLY be realized with a 5G SA core network. Those include: Network Automation, Network Function Virtualization, 5G Security, Network Slicing, Edge Computing (MEC), Policy Control, Network Data Analytics, etc
Figure 1: Overview of the 5G system
The 5GC architecture relies on a “Service-Based Architecture” (SBA) framework, where the architecture elements are defined in terms of “Network Functions” (NFs) rather than by “traditional” Network Entities. Via interfaces of a common framework, any given NF offers its services to all the other authorized NFs and/or to any “consumers” that are permitted to make use of these provided services. Such an SBA approach offers modularity and reusability.
Figure 2: 5G SA Core Network Architecture
The 5G SA architecture can be seen as the “full 5G deployment,” not needing any part of a 4G network to operate.
Finally, 3GPP has not liased their 5G system architecture specifications to ITU-T so there are no ITU-T standards for 5G SA Core Network or any other 5G non-radio specification. Instead, 3GPP sends their specs to ETSI which rubber stamps them as “ETSI standards.”
These findings are from ABI Research’s 5G Core Market Status and Migration Analysis report. This report is part of the company’s 5G Core & Edge Networks research service, which includes research, data, and analyst insights. Based on extensive primary interviews, Application Analysis reports present an in-depth analysis of key market trends and factors for a specific technology.
About ABI Research
ABI Research is a global technology intelligence firm delivering actionable research and strategic guidance to technology leaders, innovators, and decision makers around the world. Our research focuses on the transformative technologies that are dramatically reshaping industries, economies, and workforces today.
A few key 3GPP Technical Specifications (TSs) are listed here:
- TS 22.261, “Service requirements for the 5G system”.
- TS 23.501, “System architecture for the 5G System (5GS)”
- TS 23.502 “Procedures for the 5G System (5GS)
- TS 32.240 “Charging management; Charging architecture and principles”.
- TS 24.501 “Non-Access-Stratum (NAS) protocol for 5G System (5GS); Stage 3”
- TS 38.300 “NR; NR and NG-RAN Overall description; Stage-2”