In Business Model, Internet Access, Mobile

Networks (wide area or local area) are changing. Most of the hype tends to center on “5G,” the next-generation platform mobile operators will adopt. But there are all sorts of other changes going on in wide area and local area networking.

It is easy to focus on “ultra-high bandwidth” as the defining characteristic of these networks. Wide area networks are moving to 400-G technology. Access networks (mobile and fixed) are moving to gigabit speeds, while Wi-Fi speeds also grow and newer protocols such as Wi-Gig appear ready to arrive.

source: Nokia Bell Labs

New possibilities will be created in the premises networking area, with “private” 4G and 5G networks becoming actual possibilities, while new opportunities emerge for supplying all forms of in-building wireless access (mobile, Wi-Fi, Wi-Gig).

All that emphasis on higher bandwidths is correct, but misses the other key changes. All future networks will bring ultra-low latency, and ultra-low latency is the key to a whole class of new services, apps and value beyond consumer internet access.

True, the new networks will support some new consumer apps as well, likely centered around virtual reality, augmented reality, 4K or 8K content delivery.

But most of the new opportunities will exist in the enterprise space, not the consumer space. Internet of things, in all its forms, is expected to develop more in the “enterprise” domain than a consumer domain. Call this business-to-business-to consumer” if you like. The point is that much of the new upside will not be in “business-to-consumer” applications, as was true for the internet.

Optimizing all networks (WAN, LAN) for ultra-low latency is the primary objective of all next-generation networks. And the emphasis there is on “all networks.”

Of course 5G is one form of next-generation network to gain importance over the next decade.

New constellations of near earth orbit satellites will be deployed, blanketing the surface of the earth with reasonably-fast, lower-latency internet access.

Wi-Gig should emerge as an enterprise connectivity choice, in addition to Wi-Fi.

We may see new types of system integrators building premises networks that integrate, in one radio network, 4G, 5G, Wi-Fi and Wi-Gig, supporting both licensed and unlicensed networks.

And the fundamental building blocks of the WAN might well change as well. Where today the network is optimized to haul bits between end users and data centers, where it once was built to haul traffic between central offices, it in coming era WANs will be optimized to support both centralized cloud data centers and a new class of edge data centers.

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