The ITU recently announced the formation of Focus Group Network 2030 (FG NET-2030) with the goal to study the requirements for networks beyond 5G. Targeting the year 2030 as the timeframe when forward-looking scenarios such as holographic type communications, volumetric video and haptic applications will be commonplace, this new focus group hopes to answer the question: What will this network architecture look like and what are the enabling mechanisms to enable these scenarios?

The industry is already in the midst of network transformation as they incorporate more programmability and automation within their networks in an effort to become more cost-efficient and agile. However, the emergence of 5G networks will likely bring with it a flood of data generated by a variety of intelligent and connected devices and machines including smartphones, connected vehicles, smart factories, etc.

According to Intel, the average amount of data generated by an individual user will be 1.9Gbit per day. Imagine what this will be by 2030. The concern of FG NET-2030 is how to deal with all this data after it travels from the user to the nearest cell tower. With so much focus on delivering the promise of 5G to the end user, it seems like what happens with the rest of the network has been overlooked – particularly the fixed side of the house.

Most of the emphasis on future networks has been focused on the mobile side – and to a large degree this focus has been rightly placed. However, while network engineers have been fixated on moving data more efficiently through the mobile side of the network, the fixed network has been largely ignored, with inefficiency and congestion hallmarks for the near future.

This means that while the 5G network might offer enough bandwidth as well as low latency for applications such as virtual reality; the fixed network simply does not have a high-enough throughput to push all that data through the network. Think of this like rush-hour – or as we like to say in the Washington DC metro area: “Hurry up and wait!” And just like traffic on the highways, the more cars that join in, the worse it gets.

As such, it will be necessary for operators to reimagine the way they design, create and architect networks to ensure that they can scale, be more flexible and allow automation. In addition, this reimagining must cross all domains of the future network: access (wireline and wireless), transport (optical, IP, wireless), services (core) and applications. Finally, it must also account for the fact that these domains will reside everywhere as cloud architectures become distributed and bring content closer to users and devices.

Per its own description, FG NET-2030 will explore new communication mechanisms from a broad perspective and is not restricted by existing notions of network paradigms or to any particular existing technologies. Network 2030 may be built upon a new or refined network architecture to carry information in a manner that may evolve from, or is quite different from, today’s networks. Regardless, Network 2030-based systems shall ensure they remain fully backward compatible, supporting both existing and new applications. A lofty goal indeed.

FG NET-2030 will be holding its first workshop in early October 2018. We plan to be there, so expect a follow up post which offers more details on the vision and strategic thinking that will create this new horizon for a future digital society in the year 2030.