AFL Blog - (Re) Introducing the Generations Blog!

This blog series is being renamed--from the “5G Blog” to the “Generations Blog.”  The reason for the change and what it means for access network technology will be explained in this first entry.

Why the change?

There are a couple of reasons for this change, and both explain why the word “generation” is so important as to be the title of this series. First, because the industry is at a generational moment for access network technology, and second, because access technology needs to last for generations.

A generational moment

Many commentators have stated that we are at a “generational moment” for communications networks, and there are several reasons for this. First, we are in the process of rolling out the next generation of wireless technology, 5G. But second, and more importantly, we are at a once-in-a-generation moment where the deployment of network upgrades is accelerating in a way that it has not since at least a generation ago in the late 1990s, and possibly since the 1930s or even since the first telephone and telegraph networks. Private investment by traditional RBOCs is accelerating rapidly, with AT&T announcing plans to deploy fiber to 15 million more locations by 2025; Frontier planning as many as 8 million or even more in the same time frame, and Lumen planning at least 2.5 million–and probably more, with the cash inflow from their recent deals. The public sector is funding upgrades in a manner not seen since the New Deal, starting with the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), the recent infrastructure bill along with many other programs started by state and local governments.

Altogether, the amount of investment and the pace of network deployments we are seeing now is the greatest we have seen for at least a generation, and it may be another generation or more before we see anything like it.

Lasting for generations

Another reason to use the term “generations” is that access networks need to last for generations. Again, we are talking about both “generations” in the demographic sense and generations in the technological sense. 5G is the latest wireless technology, and it follows roughly a decade after 4G, which in turn was about a decade after 3G. We have every reason to believe that wireless technology will continue to evolve at the same pace. Active equipment–be it user devices, routers, switches, servers, etc. – has an even faster pace of advancement. However, it is much too expensive to deploy an entirely new fiber access network every 10 years for a new wireless technology, let alone at the higher pace of advancement for other devices.

Also, because of this high deployment cost, an access network should last through demographic generations as well. Ten years of use is not enough to get a good return on investment. The original telephone networks, in some cases, were in place for a century or more. Therefore, it is critical, to make sure an access network can last at least a demographic generation (and through multiple technology generations).

The challenge

It’s one thing to say that an access network should last for generations. It’s another to make sure that it does. The durability of the materials used in constructing this network is just one factor, albeit a critical one. But even if the cables and connections used are durable enough, a key question remains: how can we ensure that the access network we build today will be adequate to meet the needs of future technological and demographic generations? Especially when we cannot predict with any certainty what 6G will look like, let alone any wireless generations beyond that or the kind of user devices and applications that will drive traffic? 

These are the questions we will answer as we progress. Future entries in this blog series will debate every aspect of this, from the product characteristics that ensure physical longevity of the network and the expandability to handle increased traffic to the flexibility to accommodate new and changing connections and the accessibility to make these changes happen in the field. 

Join us in the coming months to learn more!