Broadband installations globally have eclipsed the one billion mark to date. These connections are largely based upon a traditional model of modified existing central office architectures, complemented by copper or fibre access and a relatively simple edge network connecting a handful of devices in the home via wired or Wi-Fi connections.
However, a new digital era is fast emerging, where new technologies such as 5G, Software Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Functions Virtualisation (NFV), a proliferation of devices driven by the Internet of Things (IoT), and a significantly more sophisticated and complex connected home have compounded matters and applied significant pressures to the network architecture and its ability to scale to meet the challenges and opportunities of this new world.
With the number of IoT devices alone growing at a rapid rate — with the market estimated to reach 75 billion connected devices by 2025 — along with the staggering growth in network traffic and the emergence of ground-breaking new technologies, the potential challenges of this new digital age need to be addressed.. The existing network architecture must change and become agile enough to embrace these new challenges and introduce new services.
However, if operators and Communication Service Providers (CSPs) are to realise the full potential of this new environment and new technologies, they must be willing to adopt new initiatives to provide the Quality of Experience (QoE) to which their customers demand. Paving the way for these new initiatives is Broadband Forum, which is unifying the best of open standards and open source to deliver the agile technologies that enable the necessary network transformations and services of the future.
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Embracing the cloud
Utilising cloud technologies including SDN and NFV, Broadband Forum’s Cloud Central Office (CloudCO) is an open interface and a scalable and dynamic network. Not only does CloudCO bring cloud capabilities to virtualisation of the Central Office (CO), as well as improve flow control and enhance functional flexibility, it can also be accessed through a Northbound API, allowing operators and third parties to consume its functionality while hiding how this functionality is achieved from the customer.
Although capable of disaggregation and redefinition of some of the functional pieces, the major challenges the CO faces include issues with migration, questions of how to allow new and old technologies to co-exist, and how to get virtual infrastructure and cloud infrastructure into the CO in the first place.
This is a flagship project for Broadband Forum. This new paradigm enables the community to build systems for the future and ensure that the new era of broadband is realised. CloudCO system integrators and function vendors can foster interoperability in the market and the system acts as a playground for an ecosystem to evolve and to help the thriving community of suppliers and service providers in their quest to embrace the cloud and the benefits that come with it.
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Open Broadband and accelerated deployment
For the efficient delivery of emerging broadband access technologies, unifying open source with open standards is imperative to make them interoperable and flexible. Operators are looking for solutions which can map open source innovations onto existing deployments to allow minimal disruption and reduce expenditure.
Open standards are needed in order to align the industry on common architecture and migration approaches. Without these standards, operators would not be able to comprehensively protect their existing asset investments and launch new opportunities for service development.
Building the next-generation network on open source technology can accelerate innovation. Operators and vendors are looking to reap the rewards of bringing new programmability to their networks by harnessing the immense promise of virtualisation and cloud-based technologies. This has resulted in industry players looking to change their approach to network design and has unlocked the vast potential of other areas of the industry including network convergence.
One ‘open source’ solution which has gained significant traction is Broadband Forum’s Open Broadband — Broadband Access Abstraction (OB-BAA), which allows accelerated deployment of cloud-based access infrastructure and services and facilitates co-existence and migration. OB-BAA can be adapted to many software defined access models and the speed at which service providers can now deploy standardised cloud-based infrastructures has notably improved. This added functionality has enabled flexible solutions needed by SDN/NFV-based networks.
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Our continuing work
Significant progress has also been made in Broadband Forum’s Broadband Quality Experience Delivered (Broadband QED) initiative. At both our Q3 2019 meeting in Milan, Italy, as well as on our Interop Pavilion at Broadband World Forum 2019 in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, this fall, a demonstration showcased a practical implementation of Broadband QED. This highlighted how service providers can look beyond conventional measurements such as latency and jitter and complement this information to provide deeper insights to improve the overall broadband experience. This aligns with the publication of Broadband Forum’s Application Layer Test Traffic Architecture and Requirements Technical Report-421 (TR-421), which addresses an area which has been historically overlooked, defining architecture and requirements for the specification of test traffic and measurements associated with the application layer. TR-421 includes a number of use cases which generate test traffic under realistic conditions and can be reliably repeated. This builds on previous test specifications which typically did not capture application layer behaviour.
Another of our expanding Broadband Forum’s initiatives, Open Broadband Labs (OB-Labs), provides a sandbox for advanced CloudCO and SDN/NFV transformation projects and promote the development of network transformation, as well as cloud evolution leveraging open source software. First introduced in 2017 in Asia, OB-Labs are now in place around the world, providing advanced test environments that can combine proprietary, open source and standard implementations to assist service provider evaluation, enable open source collaboration, and accelerate transformation. OB-Labs provide the industry with defined interfaces for how products and solutions can fit into the cloud-based architecture, and their test resources can be used for performance and interoperability testing.
Yes — the revolution of the broadband industry is now upon us. That said, Broadband Forum is here to help, and operators and vendors keen to adopt initiatives of open software interwoven with open standards can tap into our resources and projects and ensure for themselves that the necessary transformation ahead is filled with opportunity.
Written by Robin Mersh, CEO of Broadband Forum