UPDATED 19:48 EST / AUGUST 15 2021

INFRA

2021, COVID-19 and the internet: a look at what’s next for our networks

As the world starts to reopen and organizations develop their return-to-work plans, it’s difficult to imagine how we would have navigated our way through this global pandemic without the internet. We live in an era that is more connected than ever before, making the internet, and the networks that comprise it, not just an essential part of our lives but the very backbone for them.

As COVID-19 became a global pandemic, hundreds of millions to billions of people around the world were asked to stay at home or shelter in place. The internet quickly became a lifeline, enabling us to remain connected with our local communities and more broadly, the world in which we live. It provided many with the information and services we needed to survive the pandemic. As a result, network operators around the world saw increases in demand for capacity and services, testing the resilience of the internet in ways it had never been tested before.

So, looking back now, how did the internet and more specifically the telecom industry do? Overall, it fared well, considering the increased dependence on the network for connectivity, work, education, entertainment and more. But it wasn’t completely smooth sailing either.

Our connection quality became intermittent as neighbors and even family members competed with us for bandwidth on access lines that weren’t intended to carry business, entertainment, gaming, health and educational programming for every resident all day long. And as we coped with bandwidth shortages at home, network capacity for brick-and-mortar restaurants, retail, businesses and schools sat unused – a testament to the rigidity of current capacity management.

Further complicating the situation, cybercrime activity surged, with increases in identity theft and incidents with videoconferencing sites, gas pipelines and food processing plants that were hacked, creating wide-scale challenges.

A new opportunity for network operators

If COVID-19 revealed our dependence on the internet for businesses and consumers alike, that dependence will remain well into the foreseeable future. The increasing dependence on the internet for delivery of cloud-based services provides a significant opportunity for network operators that are able to capitalize on it.

However, the telecom industry isn’t the only industry well-positioned to capitalize on this opportunity. It will be competing for relevance with over-the-top providers as well, including large cloud providers such as Amazon.com Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Google LLC.

Time is of the essence, and capitalizing on these new sources of revenue will require network operators to invest in three key areas: open and agile network infrastructure, edge cloud solutions that enable them to virtualize infrastructure for greater agility and, most importantly, network automation to enable their networks to become more autonomous.

Investment in these three areas will be critically important in the short- to mid-term horizons, as network operators need to address three key challenges: First, they need to satisfy the ongoing voracious demand for bandwidth. Second, they must manage the dynamic nature of “internet of things” connectivity and services, which requires the ability to shift capacity with real-time agility as opposed to building and stranding. Finally, they need to tame complexity for greater operational efficiency and mitigate network outages for a best-in-class user experience.

The industry turns to automation

Although the benefits of network automation are widely known, one area that’s less discussed is how it delivers long-term return on investment. As automation deployments take off and deliver greater network and operational efficiencies, the gains from these deployments can be re-invested into other areas in need of network transformation. The most common areas include:

  • Agility: Increasing the ability to shift network resources where needed
  • Resilience: Ensuring the reliable delivery of all services and applications
  • Assurance: Leveraging predictive analytics for insight to ensure desired behavior   
  • Control: Placing more control into the hands of the end-user
  • Security: Increasing emphasis on network, application and end-user security
  • Network autonomy: Allowing the network to start taking care of itself – it is 50 years old, after all

The bottom line

It’s critical for the telecoms industry to invest in automation as it looks to remain competitive in the post-COVID world. These initiatives will require change – and change is not always easy – but it’s important that the industry moves toward them, even if not all at once.

The pandemic was a wakeup call for the world, especially the telecoms industry, that we must continue investing in our networks so that we’re better prepared for whatever the future brings. As businesses and consumers shift toward a digital, cloud-hosted economy, now is the time for network operators to capitalize on the transition. If they wait too long, the opportunity will be lost.

Kireeti Kompella is a senior vice president and chief technology officer for Juniper Networks Inc.’s engineering team. He wrote this article for SiliconANGLE.

Image: geralt/Pixabay

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