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Carriers’ broadband deployment plans focus on fiber. But a growing number are also using FWA as well. What do IT managers need to know about the alternative to fiber as carrier decisions factor in your network expansion and enhancement plans?

Carriers’ broadband deployment plans focus on fiber. But a growing number are also using FWA as well. What do IT managers need to know about the alternative to fiber as carrier decisions factor in your network expansion and enhancement plans?

Why? While fiber can provide higher speeds, FWA is quicker to deploy, more reliable, and a cheaper means to provide high-speed Internet access in areas that lack broadband. In these scenarios, carriers cannot ROI-justify the time and cost of laying fiber or running it across phone poles to remote areas.

FWA is an increasingly attractive alternative to wired broadband Internet options at a time when carriers are looking to match the media with the population to ensure the service takes rates in their areas are sufficient to provide a profit and avoid a fiber bubble from overbuilding.

Broadband funding

The combined funding pool, which is approaching $100 billion, is fed by the FCC's Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) and President Biden's $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (ARPA), which looks to bankroll the expansion of broadband throughout the nation.

Top considerations for IT managers

A sunny forecast. The economics and data rate performance of FWA are finally becoming competitive with that of wired internet services, according to Deloitte Global. The company predicts that the number of FWA connections will grow from about sixty million in 2020 to 88 million this year, with 5G FWA representing almost 7% of the total. “While our analysis reveals a 19% 2020–2026 CAGR in total FWA connections, 5G FWA connections will grow even faster, at a CAGR of almost 88%, over the same period,” wrote the authors of the Deloitte Insights report.

Deployment. If you are looking to quickly extend your corporate network to new locations such as small branch offices and remote workers in un or underserved areas such as rural regions, FWA is the answer since the radio frequency-based systems do not require digging, and the process carriers must go through for builds in municipalities. And do not forget winter weather in much of the U.S. as an impediment to digs for fiber.

FWA systems (typically point-to-multipoint) are above ground and can use different radio frequencies to deliver service to special CPE at the business or residence in an expedited manner.

Availability. With fiber, businesses risk service interruptions from cable cuts and damage from storms and car accidents to phone poles atop which the cables are often strung to speed rollouts, especially in rural areas. With carriers looking to use both media, compare SLAs for availability and other essential metrics such as mean time to repair.

Performance. In many cases, fiber systems can be upgraded to support higher speeds than FWA. But that does not mean the wireless option is not sufficient for the needs of potential network locations and WFH residences. FWA systems can support a wide range of speeds that exceed one hundred Mbps when supporting 5G technology.

A quickening ROI for carriers?

ROI-focused carriers are unlikely to use fiber to reach all unserved and underserved rural areas, opting for the quicker to deploy and less expensive FWA approach for home broadband.

Global carrier equipment maker Ericsson sees Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) as an efficient and scalable alternative to wired connections. "With smart and targeted deployments, our studies show that the investment typically pays off in less than two years." The vendor believes it can help its operator customers accelerate this in instances where 5G technology is used.

Over 75 percent of service providers now offer FWA. In October 2021, Ericsson, for the sixth time, updated its study of retail packages offered by service providers worldwide. Out of 312 service providers studied, 239 had an FWA offering, representing an average of 77 percent globally. Service providers’ adoption of FWA offerings has more than doubled in the last three years.

Looking ahead

How fixed wireless access is being offered: Ericsson survey says…Ericsson’s updated study of retail packages offered by service providers worldwide in October of last year provided important detail on how carriers structure FWA for their customers.

The majority (88 percent) of FWA offerings are best effort with a monthly volume tariff plan based on usage (GB/month), according to the survey. However, 12 percent of service providers respondents offer a QoS. Ericsson defines this as selling FWA services “with speed tiers, which it claims enables higher monetization, akin to how fiber-based broadband services are offered.”

Forty percent of these QoS offerings are basic, with average/typical speeds being advertised, the vendor added. "Some 60 percent are more advanced QoS offerings, involving speed tiers, such as 100Mbps, 300Mbps, and 500Mbps."

QoS in the U.S. Service providers with 5G fixed wireless access are more likely to have a QoS offering, with seventeen out of fifty-six utilizing this approach (30 percent), according to Ericsson global service provider survey. North America is the region with the highest adoption, with 40 percent of all offerings based on QoS.

fixed wireless access2

FWA CPE prices fall, choices expand. It appears 5G FWA deployments are being driven by lower costs CPE, something Dell’Oro Group identified over a year ago. The cost for indoor 5G FWA CPE is expected to drop from $475 in 2020 to $180 by the end of 2023.

“The global demand for broadband service has resulted in an acceleration of interest among fixed and mobile operators alike to either expand their existing LTE or point-to-multipoint fixed wireless access (FWA) offerings or roll out early 5G FWA services to a growing base of current and potential subscribers,” explained Jeff Heynen, Vice President, Broadband Access and Home Networking at Dell’Oro Group, a market research and analysis firm.

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From funding to the front door, IT managers can learn from state-level fiber expansions and benefit from programs created to speed high-speed Internet buildouts powered by federal legislation, the FCC, and annual carrier capital expenditures.

The knock on the door might not be a marketer asking you to sign up for solar panels. Instead, it may be a door-to-door salesperson pitching broadband Internet from a provider you may not have heard of.

AT&T and Google Fiber have confirmed that they are taking it to the streets in an aggressive effort to sell fiber-based products in newly entered areas and against entrenched incumbent telcos and cable companies.

The fiber forays will deliver high-speed Internet service to support work-from-home efforts, virtual education, telemedicine, streaming services, and gaming.

Funding fuels deployments

Why the full-court press? Flush with grants and funding from the American Rescue Plan, the Rural Development Opportunity Fund (RDOF), and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, added to annual carrier CapEx spending, the broadband breakout is well underway.

Carriers large and small are aggressively upgrading and expanding their networks to offer faster services and to un- and underserved areas to take on cable incumbents such as cableco Charter, who are also adding fiber.

Fiber forecast and IT guidance

It is anticipated that annual spending on fiber upgrades and expansions will continue for at least five years before the broadband breakout slows. Enterprise IT managers need to be aware of new and emerging efforts embraced by states and carriers to drive fiber deployments.

IT manager prep

With many service providers of all types – new and old - having stated their plans and associated timelines, there is not much IT managers can do to influence the actual speed of fiber service rollouts. But by understanding emerging efforts to drive the use of funds for broadband deployment, they can get up to speed before they get new or faster broadband speeds.

“IT managers will want to do their homework and make sure to fully vet new providers to make sure they aren’t overextending themselves and also trying to boost take rates by offering SLA guarantees they can’t necessarily back up,” advises Jeff Heynen, Vice President, Broadband Access and Home Networking at Dell’Oro Group, a market research and analysis firm.

AT&T operational challenges

Speaking on an earnings call, AT&T CEO John Stankey said it takes a year from the time it begins engineering work in a new market to the time it can start selling fiber products there.

AT&T’s stated goal is to cut that timeframe down “substantially” so it can get its broadband products to consumers faster. The carrier lost 20,000 broadband customers in Q4 2021 as fiber net additions failed to offset DSL and non-fiber losses.

The type of things to come

AT&T plans to double its fiber footprint by 2025. That should help the telco in its ongoing rollout of gigabit services (including multi) and increasingly popular symmetrical services to better compete with cablecos (pushing DOCSIS 4.0) for all-size enterprise business and consumer connections. It will also drive support for an expanded 5G wireless network.

Supply chain challenges notwithstanding, the fiber network will cover four million small businesses and one million enterprise locations, and more than twenty-five million consumer locations with multi-gig performance, according to Jeff McElfresh, CEO of AT&T Communications. “Nationwide, more than 9.5 million business customer locations are within 1,000 feet of our fiber.” The carrier exec said that he believes AT&T has enough “weight” in the industry that it can work with vendors to overcome any supply chain delays.

Addressing the skills gap- Optical installers get smarter, faster

The Fiber Broadband Association (FBA) recently launched an Optical Telecom Installation Certification program to help scale the education of fiber technicians, with a pilot run that was set to start on March 29.

Fiber broadband experts designed the program to quickly scale fiber technician education to fill the existing fiber skills gap and accelerate fiber deployments across North America.

The FBA forecasts that more fiber will be deployed in the next five years than has been deployed in the past 20 years, but the need for skilled fiber optic technicians will significantly impact each state’s ability to deploy broadband. The FBA’s OpTIC program teaches the knowledge and skills required to properly install, test, and maintain high-speed fiber broadband networks.

"When we saw the need for an expanded fiber workforce in order to keep up with broadband demand and growth opportunities, we began development of this intensive training program to ensure that no state is left behind in the digital equity gap," said Deborah Kish, Vice President of Research and Workforce Development at the FBA.

The FBA is engaged with twenty-three states to roll out this fiber optic technician training program with their community college systems and fiber optic broadband service providers. Its stated goal is to reach all fifty states and U.S. territories by the end of the year.

Build, own and lease to ISPs - Michigan

One such option IT managers need to be aware of is for county utilities to use the funding to build new fiber and wireless networks, which they would own, and leaseback to ISPs to speed the introduction of broadband services throughout the county.

Michigan's Ottawa County is exploring this opportunity, having built cell towers for wireless services this way before and then leased them to companies to cover dead zones in the town. It was not economically feasible at the time for companies to build that infrastructure, and a similar situation has been playing out with internet infrastructure in sparsely populated rural areas of the county.

“It is not economically feasible to lay fiber to every home and business across the county,” said Douglas Weber, president of Urban Wireless Solutions, Ottawa County’s consultant on the initiative. “If it were, you would have seen all the major internet service providers doing so already. Furthermore, wireless technology has improved to the point where it is delivering internet speeds comparable to fiber and can be deployed in a more economically prudent manner.”

The statewide grant approach with rules - Tennessee

The State of Tennessee detailed in March a plan to spend $400 million in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan for carriers to deliver broadband services in the state. The entities can be solely broadband providers to Tennessee, or they can include nationwide coverage. Broadband infrastructure projects in Tennessee will prioritize "severely underserved" communities, which it defines as serving those that have coverage below 25/3 Mbps and 10/1 Mbps.

The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (ECD) broadband providers had until mid-March 15 to submit applications for funding. Projects must be completed within three years. The additional funding from the ARP has allowed the state entity to waive its $2 million maximum request amount for grants.

Too fast and furious?

One aspect for IT managers to consider is that in a race to reach new areas and provide a competitive alternative to businesses and consumers, providers may overextend themselves financially.

Does the demand justify new fiber builds to attract customers’ whose collective spend does not cost-justify the rollouts?

“The key part of their analysis is that there is [plenty] of overbuilding going on right now. In other words, expansions into new areas to try to grab broadband subscribers away from incumbent providers,” explained Dell’Oro’s Heynen. “Operators are using the high valuations of their fiber networks to secure more funding to cover these expansion projects. Because of that, I do agree that traditional take rate assumptions might be a bit rosy.”

For the foreseeable future, service providers see fiber rollouts as an opportunity knocking loudly.

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Enterprises face a fast-expanding array of 5G private network offerings as AWS, Cisco, HPE, and others have joined the fray since December.

What a difference three months has made. While momentum is building fast for private 5G network services for enterprise use, it is unclear if organizations fully understand the technologies involved and their value. In fact, IT managers are still learning how the offerings can help their operations and get them up and running.

Concurrently, the carrier and vendor ecosystem is faced with finding ways to monetize their private 5G networks offerings.

But this does not mean a doom and gloom forecast for one of the hottest and most dynamic sectors in networking. It is quite the opposite.

This nascent industry segment is expanding rapidly, with the entrance of tech giants to the provider roster in the last several months, a continuous infusion of funding, and enterprises trialing 5G networks as a step that can lead to commercial implementations.

Targeting wired Ethernet, Wi-Fi

Private 5G service providers are targeting enterprises that currently use wired Ethernet LANs (hard to install and manage) and Wi-Fi (which presents coverage issues) in their corporate networks. Using a private 5G network service can solve these challenges while providing ultra-low latency.

What do enterprise IT managers need to know about escalating activity in the burgeoning sector to evaluate a widening array of offerings and opportunities?

The entry of network computing giants in recent months should have IT managers reviewing private 5G network offerings for such use cases as shipping and delivery fleets, tablets in factories and warehouses, and robotic manufacturing, said AWS Adam CEO Selipsky at an annual company event late last year. “All these new use cases require consistent, reliable connectivity.”

Private 5G draws a big crowd

Until recently, the private 5G market has included few telecommunications system behemoths along with lesser-known innovators that are battling to get the attention of enterprise customers.

But starting last December, tech giants joined the fray, expanding the menu of private 5G network providers and more choices for IT managers.

Early entrants: Verizon and Betacom

Since then (in last few months): Amazon Web Services, Cisco Systems, and HPE.).

At Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, AT&T outlined an effort with Microsoft to develop a service called Private AT&T Edge that includes the ability to roam beyond the geographical boundaries of the AT&T private network and still stay connected through the AT&T public network.

Pre-integrated solutions

Availability of pre-integrated solutions portends to simplify private 5G networks for enterprises. Qualcomm’s partner program aims at that goal. The tech giant is working with Microsoft to offer such an offering in the third quarter of this year. This and others will be available through select operators and integrators.

Now targeting SMBs

Also at the show, Verizon announced a turnkey solution that partner Celona will bring to market. This solution is for small- and medium-sized enterprises “looking for fast time-to-value,” according to the carrier.

The offering from Celona is designed to expand the target market of customers. It will be usable with CBRS spectrum, according to the vendor.

Investing in 5G: follow the money

In an emerging market, tracking investments in non-household names can give IT managers a better understanding of the infrastructure that can provide broader networking opportunities. In this case, Federated Wireless last month secured $58 million in Series D funding. This brings Federated’s total funding raised to $210 million. Federated was founded last year.

Adding CBRS spectrum inventory

What is Federated? It makes spectrum access systems (SAS) that allow companies to use shared spectrum in the 3.5Ghz band for 5G networks without interference issues.

This spectrum administration offering became crucial as the FCC auctions spectrum in the Citizens Band Radio Service (CBRS) to all comers, with buyers including Deere Co., utilities, rural telcos, and large universities. The auction ended in August 2020 and generated over $4.5 billion. CBRS expanded 5G private network opportunities to provide additional inventory for enterprises, carriers, and other organizations.

From trials to implementations – and traction?

Since trials precede implementations, enterprise IT managers can learn from the experiences of others, especially with a new or emerging technology. Here is a case in point: Longtime wireless network builder for carriers for Betacom Inc. launched a fully managed private 5G network service in late May. The company handles network design, deployment, and management for the offering. Betacom explains enterprise customers retain ownership of the network and local control of their data. Management is provided from its NOC, which is hosted on Microsoft Azure.

Just last month, Betacom announced a service trial with the Dallas Fort Worth (DFW) Airport, explaining that it is “trialing a private 5G network for increased baggage handling accuracy and efficiency. Betacom claims is 5G-as-a-service allows DFW to “securely run their mission-critical applications without interference and helps to speed up baggage handling and reduce lost baggage costs.”

Verizon, which launched its private 5G service last June, revealed during Mobile World Congress in Barcelona that it has landed its first commercial customer, the new headquarters of BlackRock in New York City. The carrier says the effort brings 5G Ultra Wideband connectivity to areas of BlackRock’s new Hudson Yards facility where high speed and low latency will be required in its trading floor, conference center, auditorium, and meeting rooms.

The road ahead

With carriers, equipment vendors, and integrators rolling out private 5G network offerings at a rapid pace, enterprise IT interested in this technology will find themselves awash in offerings to compare in 2022 and far beyond.

This, of course, is as providers settle on monetization strategies necessary for enterprises to determine the value of implementing 5G technology in their business operations.

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Soaring video traffic, WFH, and security service acquisitions drive content delivery sector expansion as core functions enrich the network edge.

Content Delivery Networks (CDN) have come a long way since the creation of the service provider category at the turn of the century during the wild west days of e-commerce websites and video delivery.

Witness the rapid expansion of the CDN market in the last few years, which saw cloud computing giants such as Google, Microsoft, and Amazon join pioneers such as Akamai Technologies, Limelight Networks, and Mirror Image. Some early players were acquired by telcos. Fastly and Cloudflare are more recent entrants.

What is a CDN?

A CDN is basically a global collection of servers that speed delivery of web content by bringing it closer to users. Data centers use caching, a process that temporarily stores copies of files so that users can access Internet content from a web device or browser more quickly through a server near you. Cached content includes web pages, images, and video in proxy servers nearest users. The far shorter routes from origin to destination also save bandwidth, boosting performance and cutting costs.

Global video volume climbs

The sheer volume of video as a percent of total global network traffic is continuing to soar, with Cisco’s video forecast claiming that IP video would be 82% of all IP traffic in 2021, up from 73% in 2016. Globally, Ultra HD will be 20.7% of IP Video traffic in 2021, up from 1.8% in 2016.

CDN providers are now more in demand than ever. The unmatched surge in popularity of streaming services, social networks, and online gaming (in no small part thanks to the global pandemic) has significantly increased the load on data centers.

CDN uses flourish

Today, Content Delivery Network (CDN) operators are chasing business in security services, mobile apps, gaming software delivery, and firmware updates as part of a fast-growing list of use cases -all while supporting the burgeoning streaming video TV services. And don’t forget helping handle the quick switch to mass working from home daily.

Trending; the top 5

So, what emerging and advancing trends should IT managers track with cloud CDN providers in 2022?

1) Fast-growing CDN roster, and possible consolidation?

Not long ago, the lineup featured pioneer Akamai, with rivals Limelight Networks, Level 3 Communications, Edgecast Networks, Mirror Image, CDNetworks, and more. But telcos snapped up and assimilated some of these players to offer CDN functionality to their customers.

But instead of the sector lineup shrinking, Cloud computing giants Google, Amazon, and Microsoft launched robust CDN offerings to businesses of all sizes, all built on their global computing and distribution networks. Fastly and Cloudflare also joined in with innovative services. Bottom line: The more, the merrier.

2) Expanding security focus

Early CDNs were designed to help enterprise customers’ website operations withstand heavy, often unanticipated, traffic volume and DDoS attacks by distributing requests for content across their sprawling networks. This continues today, but we’ve seen CDN operators such as Akamai offer add-on security services for their customers -spending $1.5 billion in the last year- an emerging trend for IT managers to keep a watchful eye on.

  • Last month, Akamai announced plans to buy Linode, a provider of core cloud services for developers, for $900 million. Linode’s services include compute, block and object storage, managed database, load balancers, and a managed Kubernetes offering that supports running containerized applications.
  • Last September, the CDN operator announced plans to buy Guardicore, a maker of micro-segmentation solutions, for $600 million. By adding its solution into Akamai’s Zero Trust security lineup, the operator claimed it would be uniquely suited to supply comprehensive protections to the enterprise, defending against threat actors and the spread of malware and ransomware.
  • Roughly a year ago, Akamai purchased Inverse to better identify IoT and mobile devices, including Internet-connected HVAC, lighting systems, robotics, medical gear, and printers in organizations.
  • In its Q4 2021 earnings call last month, Akamai CEO Tom Leighton said that security products continued their rapid growth, generating revenue of $365 million, up 23% year-over-year. “For the full year, security revenue reached $1.33 billion and grew 26% over 2020. Security represented 39% of our revenue last year, up from 33% in 2020.”

In the overall CDN sector, the security type menu has expanded far beyond DDoS attack protection to include:

  • Web Application Firewall
  • Bot Mitigation & Screen Scraping Protection
  • Data Security
  • DNS Protection

3) The edge fuels WFH

CDNs are becoming a top driver and use case for edge computing. How? Well, while the delivery of content from edge devices as close to customers as possible is largely the same approach providers used in moving content closer to end-user devices, and for the same reasons. Cloud CDN players are adding more functionality, such as processing power, to the increasingly intelligent network edge.

The architecture of CDNs is playing a leading role in supporting work-from-home implementations. After all, early CDNs were built on edge computing functionality long before the phrase edge computing was coined.

4) CDN or CDNs?

Enterprises looking to live stream video require far more functionality for their events, be the audience national or global. In fact, organizations in the live group have been known to use multiple CDNs (one as a primary and the other as a backup) if the primary suffers performance issues or outages.

Advanced software packages from firms such as Conviva enable a customer to switch back and forth in real time between CDNs to ensure the best view experience. This is also important if ISP capacity issues arise, and the content needs to be downshifted to a slower bandwidth to be delivered on time. Also, CDNs are stronger coverage-wise in some states (U.S.), regions, countries, and continents than in others.

5) Build vs. buy

There was a time when large companies considered and built their own CDN networks rather than relying on services from established providers. One such content streamer, Netflix, began to build a worldwide CDN, which the company claims has cost over $1 billion, to ensure the movie, series, and shows in its pioneering subscription video-on-demand streaming service are located as close as possible to its customers with the quickest loading times possible.

The Walt Disney Company, which launched its own subscription services internationally to compete with Netflix and a widening field of rivals, spent a few billion dollars in 2017 and 2018 to buy a majority stake (estimated at 85%) in BAMTech LLC.

Major League Baseball created the streaming tech company in 2015. That gave Disney the CDN and related assets needed to quickly launch ESPN streaming services and its Disney+ consumer streaming service in late 2019.

The bottom line

With the live-streamed Super Bowl and Winter Olympics in the rearview mirror and March Madness upon us, it’s easy to overlook the increasing CDN use by enterprises of all sizes outside the media and entertainment vertical.

The key takeaway in tracking CDN trends is the breadth of their use far beyond streaming video. Microsoft uses CDNs to cache static assets of its Office 365 software suite closer to the browsers requesting them to speed up downloads and reduce perceived end-user latency. Meanwhile, SMBs now use CDNs to support WFH applications. IT departments use CDNs to distribute product updates.

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Disaster recovery for the modern global enterprise: How to minimize the impact of cable cuts, criminal activity, and acts of God.

Planning for unexpected and unavoidable service interruptions on undersea cables, land-based networks or satellite systems is an essential undertaking for enterprise IT managers. Refreshing a backup plan need not be heavy lifting as expert guidance and a growing array of backup options are available to fortify the blueprint.

The undersea volcano which, which cut the sole Internet link to Tonga, a country of islands, last month should serve as a wakeup call for enterprise IT managers around the world to update their backup and disaster recovery plans for their network infrastructure and connected equipment.

Be it from a backhoe blunder, criminal activity or act of God, enterprises need a comprehensive B (backup) plan for locations large and small, nearby and around the world, to minimize lost productivity and business.

Map out your plan

If your carriers have not provided route maps and their backup plans for your services, press them for these assets so you can identify potential weaknesses in your plan. Just because you have carrier diversity, does not guarantee route diversity, as carriers frequently use the same conduit. If that conduit is knocked out, having multiple carriers may not matter.

Minimize fiber cut risk

“The best method to minimize any impact from fiber cuts is to either obtain a network service from a service provider that builds in a protection path by having two separate routes everywhere (in two separate conduits) or to implement one yourself by finding two service providers with different fiber routes,” explained Jimmy Yu, Vice President of the Optical Transport market at Dell’Oro Group, a research and analysis firm.

In both scenarios, if a conduit of fiber is cut, the network will re-route the company’s traffic through an alternate route, usually in a few minutes. This applies to both terrestrial and submarine networks.

This approach proved successful over a decade ago when an undersea earthquake near Japan, shook much of the country, including nuclear power plants, and cut numerous undersea fiber cables. But due to protection mechanisms in place, traffic was re-routed to the cables that were still functioning. By contrast, Tonga had a single point of failure with a single undersea connection to the Internet.

Explore multiple media options

Since fiber cuts are seen as inevitable, IT managers who have not already, need to consider wireless and satellite transmission options for use as in a backup role. If a site is within 100 km of a neighboring country, point to point microwave is a solid option, says Yu. Satellite connection can also limit losses, but both options operate at speeds far slower than are typically supported on optical transport systems.

Check new cables, new owners, and new routes

Because of the need to expand and protect cloud services connectivity and to make their data centers more resilient, Google, Microsoft and Facebook have collectively built nearly 20 of their own undersea cables, connection cities and country regions, often in new locations around the globe.

At last check, Google alone owned sixteen undersea cables. Microsoft and Facebook teamed on yet another. The good news is their services can reach new areas and provide backups to other routes they own. However, it is unlikely they will lease or sell capacity to enterprises or carriers.

Diverse cables to avoid disasters

Early on in undersea systems, the cables were owned and operated by telco consortiums, built to provide connectivity between international business hubs. Business opportunities and cable cuts helped grow the number of systems as was the case when Hurricane Sandy devastated New Jersey in October 2012, disrupting daily business for some time.

“It was a major disruption,” says Frank Rey, director of global network strategy for Microsoft’s Cloud Infrastructure and Operations division. “The entire network between North America and Europe was isolated for a number of hours. For us, the storm brought to light a potential challenge in the consolidation of transatlantic cables that all landed in New York and New Jersey.”

Look to the cloud for cable diversity

Disasters have a way of fueling progress in networking resiliency. The hurricane inspired Microsoft, Facebook, and contractor Telexius to build what, when completed in 2019, as the highest capacity subsea cable to cross the Atlantic Ocean. It connects Virginia Beach, Virginia, and Bilbao, Spain, offering a separate route from cables terminating in New Jersey.

The cable’s landing point in Spain landing provides a path to network hubs in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, and its bandwidth will help meet the increasing demand for internet and cloud services.

Check SLAs

Enterprise IT managers need to review the SLAs on their carrier connections focusing on availability as well as for recovery. “There are certainly going to be locations where the local service provider just can’t provide the SLAs some enterprises require, especially when it comes to response and repair times,’’ cautioned Jeff Heynen, Vice President, Broadband Access and Home Networking at the Dell’Oro Group.

Reviewing SLAs of other providers, where available, to determine if a change is required, and if and where dedicated backup and equipment are needed. In those cases, satellite and fixed wireless are certainly viable options for redundancy.

Consider backup equipment spending

With often tight budgets and the price of seemingly everything climbing, buying equipment to sit idle may not seem like a top priority. Some may prefer a usage-based or on demand-centric B plan. Keeping an eye on the enterprise IoT routers and gateway market could prove prudent.

“A modest percentage of those devices are used in remote locations purely as backups to the primary fixed routers and gateways,” according to Heynen, “If there are any WAN connectivity issues, the enterprise can simply divert any traffic through the wireless gateway until the fixed connection is restored. You could definitely envision satellite providing another WAN connectivity option in that situation.”

The bottom line

Avoiding or minimizing loss of business from transmission network interruptions of any type is an essential undertaking. Periodically refreshing a B plan for network connectivity can benefit enterprises if IT managers consider new and emerging opportunities for a more flexible plan.

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Demand for broadband service in unserved and underserved areas remains high, but what of the wild card: supply?

The last two years saw unprecedented initiatives designed to pour $85 billion dollars into funding and financing for a historic broadband breakout to deliver high speed Internet to unserved and underserved areas across America.

But looking to 2022, enterprise IT managers and service providers will find that money cannot yet buy them repaired and enhanced supply chains needed to eliminate sweeping shortages of everything from chips to equipment necessary for network upgrades and expansions to serve previously unreachable locations.

Despite historic levels of investment in broadband to close the Digital Divide over the coming years, the telecom industry now finds itself seeking to avert a broadband slowdown. Instead of planning for bigger broadband business, equipment makers and carriers are planning for increasing delays in addressing the needs of enterprises.

What happens to network expansion?

As a result, it appears clear that companies will spend more time waiting than planning for corporate network expansion until further notice. Supporting work from home efforts will become heavy lifting.

“I believe the biggest challenge by far for enterprise IT managers is going to be supply chain issues limiting access to certain network infrastructure and CPE,” said Jeff Heynen, Vice President, Broadband Access, and Home Networking, for market research and analysis firm Dell’Oro Group. “Lead times for components continue to increase and we are seeing its impact in the shipments of things like DOCSIS CPE, certain PON ONTs, and home networking gear.”

And while the funding floodgates for broadband access are opening, enterprises and service providers will find moving forward on the ground and in the air far tougher than in pre-Covid times.

“I don’t see the shortages being resolved in the first half of the year, so plans have to be made for projects that are dependent on the acquisition of new equipment to take longer than expected,” Heynen said.

IT managers and carriers – especially rural service providers - can expect an extra-large serving of frustration in 2022, as shortages continue.

Industry executive expresses concern

Supply chain problems are top of mind for the NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association.

“Getting access to fiber, to [customer-premises equipment] equipment – it has been torturous,” said Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of the NTCA Rural Broadband Association said at a Fierce Telecom industry event in mid-December. “I have companies that are now being told it will be 100 weeks to get their fiber builds – [companies] are hoarding fiber like toilet paper at this point.”

NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association represents nearly 850 independent, family-owned and community-based telecommunications companies, NTCA’s members build and deliver broadband connectivity and operate essential services in rural and small-town communities across the U.S.

A chorus of concerns

Telecom industry associations – including the NTCA – sent a letter to President Biden in early 2021, informing him of the serious challenges faced by the chip shortage and the need to address it. They included trade groups CTIA and USTelecom.

"The global semiconductor shortage, combined with residual impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, is significantly affecting the telecommunications supply chain and the broader ICT [information communication technology] supply chain,” USTelecom told the FCC. The group claimed its members “are seeing extended and uncertain lead times from suppliers, as well as shipping delays."

The group got into specifics, claiming that broadband providers have had to make purchase orders up to 15 months in advance, instead of the typical 1-3 months. The group added that vendors are requiring purchase orders be placed 6 months in advance and are expected to increase that timeframe to a year.

Planning accordingly

Shortages caused by slowed or broken supply chains come at a tough time for IT and business managers who are struggling to address the changing face of the corporate workforce.

Firms looking to support work from home full time, or as a hybrid solution are largely on hold, though the appeal of both options has grown during Covid-caused lockdowns and quarantines, and from remote education and telehealth/virtual medicine.

Supply chain relevance to broadband plans

After decades of relative inaction, the broadband breakout began in earnest in 2021, with the awarding of grants through the FCC’s $20 billion Rural Development Opportunity Fund (RDOF) and the Infrastructure Investment Act in the closing months of the year.

However, before enterprise IT managers – anywhere, in any industry – make plans for new infrastructure, they need to consider a new variable: product availability.

Enterprises will have to plan for delays in components needed for the broadband options to become available. The high-speed media network contenders remain the same with fiber (G-PON), fixed wireless access, and DOCSIS cable, joined by low-Earth satellite-delivered access emerging as bird launches increase in frequency, led by Elon Musk’s SpaceX Starlink service.

So, without underserved and unserved regions using affordable broadband access options, it is anyone’s guess when the Digital Divide will finally be closed.