THE CARRIER GUIDE TO 2021: Traffic, Technology and Unsung Heroes

By Mattias Fridström
January 21, 20201

According to the Chinese Zodiac, 2021 is the Year of the Ox. In Chinese culture, oxen are considered to be honest and earnest. They are determined and stubborn, but also low-key and don’t seek praise. This often hides their talent, but they earn recognition through honest hard work. In many ways, I can’t help but thinking this is a good metaphor for the telecom industry in general. Our world was turned upside down in 2020 and it was gratifying to see the industry come together and solve many of the communication-related challenges that arose from the pandemic. For example, the need to socially-distance and work from home. As traffic growth continues unabated, many of these challenges will persist into 2021. Addressing these, we’ll need to relentlessly pursue our mission to ensure reliable, fast and secure connectivity across the globe. And in keeping with our traditional ‘Top 3’ predictions for the year ahead, here are a few thoughts about 2021.

The Top 3 Global Carrier Industry Trends

  • People may not go back to the office – at least for the first part of the year. With the unprecedented and brutal impact of Covid-19 on networks worldwide, every day started to look like a Sunday, with traffic spread more evenly throughout the day. Traffic peaks grew more than 60% compared to pre-covid-19 days, and most networks had to rapidly adapt their operations. This will become a new reality in 2021 and many observers predict that this traffic trend will persist, despite new vaccines and other solutions to mitigate the effects of the pandemic.
  • The public Internet for everything. Until very recently, the public Internet was a “best effort” network, good enough for certain gaming and streaming applications at best. Today, more and more traffic traverses the 98 000 ASNs that make up the public Internet, and even Enterprises will trust this network with the majority of their internal traffic – between offices and other production facilities. Add carrier security solutions and its inherent flexibility makes it a perfect underlay for all kinds of mission-critical traffic.
  • Renewed interest in satellites, again. Around 20 years ago, most satellite links for voice and data applications, even TV, were replaced with fibers along the seabed or beneath the soil. The capacity limits and long delay times rendered satellite communications irrelevant in the most densely populated areas of the Globe. Today, when satellites can operate together in lower orbits en masse, across a highly meshed network, they will start to have a big impact on global communication again. Rural areas are the primary target for these new services, but the short hops at the speed of light between low flying satellites could also be useful for some latency-critical traffic in more densely populated areas, too.

The Top 3 Technology and Traffic Trends

  • 5G for real. For years we have talked about this emerging technology and what it can do. During 2021 we will finally see a tangible impact from the services it can provide and the problems it can solve. Initially, it will be very much business-case driven, with the “big rollout” coming years later for the wider public, but it will certainly move the needle for many of us. It is usually when the first deployments start that the really cool use cases appear.
  • Increased carrier-level security. DDoS protection and RPKI (Resource Public Key Interface) have been largely viewed as just ‘nice-to-have- for some ISPs for many years. Now with the Public Internet as the underlay of choice for all sorts of traffic, these security solutions have become increasingly important and are now seen as a “first line of defense” against malicious traffic or highjacking. They will not replace firewalls and other on prem or cloud security mechanisms further up the stack, but they will certainly make the network a safer and more reliable place.
  • The way we build and operate our networks. The introduction of ZR and ZR+ technologies will radically change how we do things. Whilst this is very much still in the laboratory, we see promising signs from 400G ZR testing, and during 2021 we will see the first real world installations. Initially, these will be used to test wavelengths framing and FEC schemes, as well as increased transparency of performance management data via streaming telemetry but quite soon we will also see operational traffic on shorter metro distances in real use.

To continue reading the rest of this article, please read it in Issue 116 of the SubTel Forum Magazine on page 16 or on our archive site here.