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Stronger and Smarter 5G, Optical & IP networks by 2030

What will the world demand of the ICT industy in 2030 & what innovations are required to get there?

By Huang Haifeng, tech journalist

What will the world demand of the ICT industry in 2030? How much innovation will it take to get there? How do we develop a new mechanism for collaborative innovation between the industry, universities, and research institutes? At Huawei's Global Analyst Summit 2021, the company's Director of the Board and the President of the Institute of Strategic Research William Xu explained the nine challenges that we need to address and the research directions that will allow us to meet those challenges, including the development of connection technologies and innovation in basic technologies.

The role of connection technologies in the next decade

Stronger 5G

William Xu believes that one of the challenges is to define 5.5G so as to support hundreds of billions of connections and a very diverse range of IoT scenarios. Although the 5G-defined use cases of eMBB, uRLLC, and mMTC have generated more than 1,000 commercial contracts and revenues of US$1.2 billion for industries like energy, healthcare, and transportation, they still cannot accommodate certain IoT scenarios.

Huang Yuhong, Deputy General Manager of China Mobile Research Institute, pointed out that, "UHD and immersive services will become more popular in consumer markets, and enterprise markets will have more differentiated requirements for 5G. We've witnessed the deep integration of 5G into industries, giving rise to new requirements. Sustained growth of those industries will require continual evolution and innovation in 5G."

We’ve proposed that within this decade, 5.5G must cover three new scenarios that aren’t yet covered by 5G: Uplink-Centric Broadband Communication (UCBC), Real-Time Broadband Communication (RTBC), and Harmonized Communication and Sensing (HCS). Together they will take us beyond the connection of everything, enabling the intelligent connection of everything.

Wang Zhiqin, Vice President of the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology, spoke on the topic of Beyond 5G (B5G), mentioning the potential of technologies such as ultra-large-scale antennas, terahertz communication, integrated AI communication, Computing First Networks, and deterministic networks – all technologies that have the potential to address the scenarios Xu described in his recent speech.

To promote the evolution of 5G, China Mobile (Shanghai) Industrial Research Institute and Huawei have jointly published the 5G Positioning Open API Industry White Paper and defined 5G location architecture and open APIs for providing 5G location services, laying a solid foundation for upgrading to 5.5G capabilities.

Stronger optical networks

To deliver larger capacity, higher speed, and lower latency, optical networks that simply serve as underlying bearer networks today must be transformed into networks that provide services. Therefore, the second challenge William Xu highlighted is developing nanoscale optics for an exponential increase in fiber capacity.

As the capacity of reconfigurable optical add/drop multiplexer (ROADM) or optical cross-connect (OXC) continues to evolve, existing technologies are enough to meet the capacity requirements of evolving optical nodes over the next three years. Although it's still unknown which technologies will be used to meet the capacity requirements thereafter, it’s likely that future traffic demand will drive trends toward ultra-large capacity, ultra-high-speed, and ultra-long-haul transmission.

At the Huawei Global Analyst Summit, William Xu laid out the path forward as he sees it. First of all, we will have to work on optical transceiver lasers and use high-modulation components to double or triple baud rates. New modulation coding and algorithms are required to multiply the capacity. And thin-film high-bandwidth modulators can greatly improve performance and be used in photoelectric devices on a wide scale.

Second, we must develop new, broad-frequency, and low-noise optical amplifiers that support manual control for reliable, ultra-long-haul transmissions. The key technology that brings us close to the quantum limit will be optical amplification.

Third, we will need to study dynamic controls for optical networks and transform the WDM network into a synchronous system to improve anti-interference features and efficiently use optical resources through computing. The key technology will be micro-cavity optical frequency combs.

In the longer term, we will also need to research new fiber and optical systems like Space Division Multiplexing (SDM), which has the potential to increase the capacity of a single fiber by 100-fold and improve data link utilization.

Stronger IP networks

By 2030, our primary networks will need to support trillions of industry connections. Xu believes that another challenge facing us is optimizing network protocols to connect all things. The digital transformation of governments, finance, healthcare, education, and SMEs will bring three major challenges to network protocols:

The first challenge will be achieving deterministic networks. In the past, network speeds were uncertain, sometimes fast and sometimes slow. But today, stable and deterministic network capabilities are a common requirement of industry customers. Deterministic networks and differentiated service capabilities are required to move the core production system of an enterprise from an on-premise cloud to an off-premise cloud.

To achieve deterministic networks, industry experts suggest that multi-purpose fiber should be used to build private networks for industry customers. Product functions should be iteratively enhanced from four perspectives: full cloudification, full convergence, full automation, and full services. In addition, operators must select industries and scenarios in which to make breakthroughs based on their own network planning pace.

Security: When all things are connected, security systems will face serious challenges, as large numbers of devices like drones, cameras, edge computing devices, and sensors will all present new security risks. The time is ripe for intrinsic, end-to-end security frameworks and protocols. As a new foundation for network construction, the Industrial Internet requires more advanced endogenous network security technologies than previous networks.

“Endogenous network security” refers to security functions or attributes built on endogenous factors such as system architectures, mechanisms, scenarios, and rules. It involves capabilities such as self-discovery, self-repair, and self-balancing against general cyber attacks, as well as automatic predictions, automatic alarms, and emergency response in the face of large-scale cyber attacks.

Huawei has been exploring endogenous security for a long time. We haven’t just embedded endogenous security into ICT infrastructure, we also provide external security solutions that complement each other to make networks stronger and better ensure security.

Flexibility: "As the variety of industry requirements increases, some will require longer IP addresses, while others will require shorter. To resolve this issue, we will need to expand IP addresses with fixed lengths and develop new Internet protocols that feature semantic and syntax flexibility," said William Xu. The industry is focusing on technologies such as IPv6+ and SRv6 to make IP networks more flexible.

As the latest technology evolved from IPv6, IPv6+ has attracted much attention due to its potential to improve network flexibility. Wu Hequan, an academician at the Chinese Academy of Engineering, believes that because IPv6+ meets the requirements of cloud-network synergy by allowing flexible networking, it’s well placed to become the intelligent IP network protocol of the cloud-network era.

IPv6-based SRv6 has been rolled out in a number of carriers' live networks. In November 2020, China Telecom initiated the centralized procurement of devices integrated with SRv6 for CN2-DCI. China Mobile and Huawei have successfully completed the pilot deployment of the G-SRv6 header compression solution on the live network of China Mobile Guangdong. There’s also strong support for SRv6 in the financial industry. Both China Construction Bank and the Agricultural Bank of China have started to deploy SRv6, aiming to make future cloud backbone networks more intelligent, agile, and ubiquitous.

However, the flexibility of IP networks cannot be achieved overnight. Related industries must work hand in hand on standards, ecosystem development, and deployment to accelerate the creation and application of new technologies over the next ten years.

Open and inclusive collaboration

To build an intelligent world by 2030,  industries, universities, and research institutes should pool humanity’s collective wisdom and innovation capabilities through an open, inclusive mechanism for collaborative innovation, to meet our development requirements and resolve problems.

Zhu Jinkang, a professor from the University of Science and Technology of China, stated, "Basic theories and innovation approaches about complex networks are two major factors that restrict 5G evolution. The industry, universities, and research institutions must work together to tackle the basic technical problems in 5G evolution."

As a major promoter of industry-university-research collaboration, Huawei has always attached great importance to technical innovation collaboration with universities. Huawei CEO Ren Zhengfei once said: "Universities should focus more on scientific theories and discoveries, whereas enterprises should focus more on technology, engineering, and inventions. When the results of the two sides are combined, greater energy will be generated."

In 2016, Huawei's proposal for polar codes for 5G was accepted by 3GPP, which greatly improved Huawei's stature in international standards organizations. The implementation of polar codes was the culmination of billions of dollars of investment by Huawei, R&D by thousands of our wireless experts, and theoretical research by Professor Erdal Alican from Turkey, who discovered polar codes. This is an example of how in-depth collaboration between academia and the ICT industry can crack difficult problems and further the development of the industry.

In addition to close collaboration with universities, Huawei has heavily invested in growing its R&D teams in basic research. In 2020, Huawei invested more than 140 billion Chinese yuan (US$21.6 billion) in R&D, ranking third among enterprises globally. Huawei employs thousands of the world's top mathematicians and physicists, and we’ve long been committed to investing 20% to 30% of our annual R&D budget into basic research.

In the next decade, close collaboration between the industry, universities, and research institutes will empower universities to make more breakthroughs and innovations in basic theories. These innovations may boost the development of the ICT industry in the next decade, and its effects may still be felt even further into the future. We believe that collaborative innovation will drive social, economic, and human progress, and ultimately lead to an intelligent world by 2030.