Embracing the Gigaband Era

User demands and technical breakthroughs propel the advancement of industries, much like the exponential growth of telecom demand has driven the rapid development of mobile and wireless broadband technologies. The past 15 years have witnessed the rise and fall of four telecom eras: from 2000 to the present, the telecom industry has progressed from 2G to 2.5G, 3G, and now 4G. However, the fixed broadband industry, heralded by the widespread application of DSL broadband technology in 1999, is still in the "broadband" era after 16 years. Have there been no new user demands over the past 16 years? Have there been no technical breakthroughs?

The answer to both of these questions is no. The demands of fixed broadband users have changed, first from the demand for reliable connections to the demand for quality of service (QoS) assurance, and later to quality of experience (QoE). At the same time, the fixed broadband industry has seen the introduction of numerous advanced technologies, such as ultra-broadband transport, flat network architecture, and software-defined networking (SDN). To encourage the development of the fixed broadband industry and set new standards, Huawei believes that the time has come for the industry to embrace a new era of broadband.

The Ultra-Broadband Forum (UBBF) has been hailed by professional media and consultancy firms as "the barometer of the ultra-broadband industry." At UBBF 2015 in Madrid, Huawei and other industry leaders worked together to define Gigaband, and officially declared the dawn of the Gigaband era. Industry leaders and representatives believe that there will be three driving forces behind the development of Gigaband.

The first driving force is social progress and national development. At the close of the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference 2014, held in Busan, South Korea in late 2014, the communications ministers of more than 200 countries jointly released the Connect 2020 agenda. This agenda aims to shape the future of the information and communications technology (ICT) sector and to serve as a commitment from national governments to expand broadband infrastructure, develop better broadband services, and guarantee satisfactory user experience. The agenda raises requirements for broadband penetration rates and bandwidth levels. In developing countries, for example, the broadband penetration rate in rural areas must exceed 90%, which means that broadband will approach ubiquity. The ITU and participating communications ministers agreed that broadband infrastructure is not only the cornerstone of the ICT industry, but of all industries.

The second driving force is enterprise development. The Chinese government's Made in China 2025 plan and the German government's Industry 4.0 both set high requirements for fixed broadband networks. An Industry 4.0-themed symposium held by the German government concluded that conventional telecom-grade broadband networks cannot support smart factories and smart production (the core aim of the Fourth Industrial Revolution). Not only Industry 4.0, but initiatives like IBM's Smarter Planet, London's Tech City, and Dubai's Smart City can't succeed with conventional broadband infrastructure. Industry 4.0 requires industrial-grade broadband networks, which the German government has deemed "mission critical infrastructure." Industrial-grade broadband networks aim to meet industry needs for availability, latency, and reliability—priorities that are yet unmet by today's broadband networks.

The third driving force is new consumer demands for service experience. Today's consumers demand more than just connectivity; they demand QoS assurance and a better user experience. Technology and services shaped networks in the broadband era, but in the next era, networks will be shaped by user experience.

By the end of 2014, gigabit services had been commercialized by more than 60 carriers around the world, further proving that benchmarks for broadband need to be updated. The proposal to redefine benchmarks and embrace the Gigaband era has attracted the attention of many players in the fixed broadband industry.

Huawei's proposed Gigaband has three core features: high bandwidth, excellent user experience, and widespread coverage. Typical bandwidth in the broadband era has been 4 Mbps or 10 Mbps, while in the Gigaband era, the minimum bandwidth will be 25 Mbps, reaching a maximum of 1000 Mbps. With such high bandwidth, video will become the main service type. As consumers are particularly sensitive to user experience when it comes to video services, Huawei has developed an innovative standard, known as unified-video mean opinion score (U-vMOS), to measure video quality indicators and ensure an excellent user experience. Furthermore, in the Gigaband era, around 90% of the population should have broadband coverage, according to the targets of Connect 2020 and more than 190 countries. These three features—bandwidth, user experience, and coverage—are the essential elements of Gigaband. For most users around the world, the Gigaband era means that 25 to 1000 Mbit/s ultra-broadband services with superb U-vMOS user experience will be available anywhere, anytime.

The advent of the Gigaband era will be greatly beneficial to operators in the development of their broadband services. Even more importantly, it will accelerate the implementation of smart planet and smart city initiatives, lay a solid foundation for industrial development, and advance civilization as a whole.

To pave the way for the Gigaband era, Huawei recommends updating industry policies from the broadband era to foster an investment-friendly environment that encourages development instead of competition. In the early stages of ultra-broadband, building widespread network coverage should be the top priority.

As networks gradually evolve, the development of the Gigaband industry will require large-scale upgrades and optimization of traditional telecommunications networks. However, Huawei believes that network development should follow service and user experience requirements. It is advisable to make full use of legacy resources and apply innovative technologies to gradually upgrade live networks. At the same time, Huawei encourages the entire industry to increase investment in new Gigaband services. The prosperity of a new industry depends on the recognition and support of end users, so Gigaband networks must meet user demands for an excellent user experience. To achieve this, we must continue to develop new services on Gigaband networks, which in turn will inspire more developers to discover new potential applications and experience requirements. The existing and future demands of users will be the engine that drives the development of Gigaband forward.

The potential for development in the global broadband industry is enormous, and now is the perfect time to start. Let us move forward together into the Gigaband era.

Liu Shuqing

Ultra-broadband solutions expert at Huawei

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