Opinion

The optical fibre decade

Ankit Agarwal | Updated on June 16, 2021

Networks being ‘fiberised’ at hectic speed

Imagine 2025, it is 10.30 p.m. and Rohit, 52, is all alone in the office. Suddenly, he has difficulty breathing and in the next moment he finds himself reaching out to someone for help. He is probably having a heart attack.

Will he be left alone struggling for life?

No, because we are crystal gazing into the next few years, where digital networks are nearly ubiquitous and super-reliable. Rohit has a watch with an integrated chip that keeps monitoring his vitals. It is connected to the emergency medical services of the nearby hospital. The moment there is a red flag, it would trigger a series of actions like alerting the nearest hospital, routing the nearest ambulance, dialling in his emergency contacts and notifying the safety officer of the building.

Networks built today will shape these digital experiences for the coming years. And these networks are intelligent, dense, closer to the user and high capacity as they are built using optical fibre.

Optical fibre has been looked at as an ‘elixir’ for communications technology, because of its virtually unlimited bandwidth and capacity. But now, more than ever, we see that networks are being fiberised not only at the core and transport, but even on the access and premise level. There are even some early-stage conversations about taking fibre to the devices, to enable ultra-low latency applications like robotic surgery.

2021 will be earmarked as the beginning of a next decade of network creation on the back of optical fibre connectivity.

Optical demand and market is projected to grow at a whopping CAGR of 10 per cent in the next 3-4 years and reach $6.9 billion in 2024.

Network creators have started to invest disproportionately in digital networks. The US Federal Communications Commission is investing $20.4 billion in Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF). In Europe, Telefonica and Allianz are creating a €5 billion JV for FTTH rollout. In India, Amazon is investing $2.8 billion for developing data centre infrastructure. In response to the pandemic, focus on FTTx and rural broadband will further boost demand.

Additionally, there are some concrete macrotrends that are driving this demand.

The phenomenal increase in optical fibre demand is primarily buoyed by continued investments in digital infrastructure by global economies.

Data, the new oil

Thanks to remote working, learning and socialising, global data traffic on broadband networks rose by more than 50 per cent, leading to average broadband usage reaching up to 0.5 TB by end-2020. By 2025, total data traffic in India will grow to 21 Exabytes per month. Now consumers demand faster speeds, lower latency and greater bandwidth, driving the need to establish fibre-dense networks.

During these challenging times, Fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) has been the real game changer and telcos world over are investing.

In 2020, 113 operators launched 5G in 48 countries with 229 million 5G connections at 4X faster adoption rate. 5G demands deep fiberisation, especially at the backhaul side of it.

Vendors are focusing on the development of new edge computing platforms to help enterprises improve their data management capability. High density fibre optic connectivity, at edge data centres, will be required for high-speed, low latency transmissions.

If the next decade of network creation is to be done on the back of fibre, then the next wave of innovation has to come in the area of fibre deployment.

Fast fiberisation will open up opportunities in digital education, remote medicine and robotic surgeries, and robotic trenching on roads. Just as we needed platform and aggregation expertise to kickstart the access economy, we will need fibre expertise to spur the next decade of network creation.

The writer is CEO, Connectivity Solutions, STL

Published on June 16, 2021

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