Solving Boris Johnson’s London 5G conundrum

By Stu Benington, Vice President of the Cloud/SDN Business Unit at Coriant

London residents and businesses were recently promised lightning fast mobile internet speeds, when Mayor Boris Johnson vowed to deliver 5G services in the capital by 2020. Johnson claimed the enhanced mobile connection speeds 5G would provide will ensure London becomes ‘the tech capital of Europe’ and further develop the sterling reputation the city is already earning for digital prowess. However, the delivery of this ambitious aim will require major operational and architectural investment in the city’s existing infrastructure.

Consumer demand for high-speed mobile connectivity is already sky-high, and the Mayor’s promise will only fuel expectations of super-fast networks that offer the highest quality of mobile experience. But actually delivering the 5G standard to Londoners – who are currently lucky to achieve a strong 3G signal across the city – within six years is certainly a huge challenge. Therefore, network operators and service providers are going to have their work cut out to supply the 5G standard.

Increased pressure on UK operators

The UK’s first 4G service only launched in October 2012, courtesy of Everything Everywhere, with fellow service provider Three following suit two months later and Vodafone launching its own 4G offering in August 2013. Nearly two years since its first became available achieving a 4G signal in central London – never mind the rest of the UK – remains patchy at best.

But despite 4G being in relevant infancy, consumer demand for data-heavy, bandwidth-hungry services is booming with the increase in popularity of on-demand video, music and video streaming. Google data found that from the beginning of recorded time until 2003, we created 5 billion Gigabytes of data. By 2011, the same amount was created every two years, and last year alone the same amount was created every ten minutes. The surge towards connected devices is only adding to these numbers.

So the need for 5G is certainly there, but ensuring London is 5G-enabled within the next six years is a daunting task. Therefore businesses need to think smart and embrace new technology such as Software Defined Networking (SDN) to enable the faster delivery of services. Those that do embrace the SDN revolution could reap vast financial benefits.

What is SDN and how will it benefit Londoners?

SDN is fast becoming the future of networking, and will be critical in enabling service providers to create more efficient, agile and scalable transport infrastructures that are capable of meeting the hyper-growth data demands generated by cloud-based services.

SDN comes in many forms. The easiest to understand is the SDN used with optical networks, where there are switches in charge of processing and redirecting the incoming light streams of data. Previously the control functions were built into the hardware, but now they are being designed with broader and more flexible functions as part of the controlling software communicating between the two devices to instruct them on what they need to do with the data.

The result is an intelligent software-led network that is more efficient at transmitting data and maximises existing infrastructure – effectively bridging the gap to high-speed mobile services before 5G becomes available.

As a result, we are seeing indications of a major boom in this market over the course of the next few years. Global analyst firm IDC has forecast SDN to become a $3.7 billion market by 2016 and, according to market analysts Infonetics, this year’s trials of SDN are set to move into commercial deployments by 2015. Between 2017 and 2020, SDN and the related concept of Network Functions Virtualisation (NFV) will become the new norm, as operators begin to feel comfortable with the technology and fully adopt the process.

From a business perspective, SDN provides huge growths in revenue, delivers drastic cost-saving for and increases the rate at which businesses can innovate. London network operators that aren’t already looking into this technology to enhance services for their customers will only find themselves floundering behind their competition. Operators must jump on board this revolution to deal with the deluge of data and to appease end user demand for the highest possible levels of mobile connectivity.

As the growth of data-intensive applications and the emergence of new technologies continue to snowball, service providers will have to find answers to ever-increasing demand from businesses and consumers. Building this foundation won’t happen overnight but the sooner operators take the initial steps on the SDN ladder, the more likely they will be able to create more efficient, agile and scalable transport infrastructures that will deliver Boris Johnson’s promise of super-fast 5G mobile services to the people of London.

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