Verizon CTO Hans Vestberg describes network plans
by Martha DeGrasse
Verizon CTO Hans Vestberg, the former CEO of Ericsson, outlined his vision for the Verizon's networks at the Citi 2018 TMT West Conference, which was held concurrently with CES in Las Vegas. Vestberg said that since joining the company in April 2017, he has worked to unify the wireless and wireline network assets.
"We are basically reusing much more of the technology all the way up to the edge," Vestberg said. "The data center, the transport, the fiber, the core network, the routers - they are all the same and then at the edge of it, then we take the decision on what type of access we are going to give."
Vestberg said the access could be fiber, 3G, 4G, or eventually 5G, and that differentiating the investment made at the network edge allows Verizon to tailor the access for the use case, and to calculate a return on the investment required to enable that use case.
Cost control is one obvious motivation for network convergence, but Vestberg said it's not the only one. He said the evolving internet of things will demand a new network architecture.
"In the new world of technologies, where everything benefits from being connected, you need actually to have a clean line of sight all the way from the data center to the customer," Vestberg said.
Vestberg said the coming 5G standard has been conceived from the start as connectivity for industrial IoT applications rather than for consumers. Although consumers may be the first to experience the lightning-fast speeds offered by 5G, they may not be the ultimate target market. Vestberg said the most significant 5G applications may not have even been imagined yet, but he is confident that Verizon's new network architecture will support whatever is on the horizon without compromising the company's financial health.
"Those are the 2 pillars in what we call the intelligent edge network -- deliver new services all the way to customers and take out costs," he said. He added that Verizon plans to pursue those two goals without losing its position as the nation's most popular and reliable wireless network. It's a balancing act that has required a change in organizational structure.
"We have changed the structure of the company, we have changed the governance of the company, in order to execute," Vestberg said. Changes have included the appointment of one executive, John Stratton, to oversee both Verizon's wireless and wireline business units.
Emerging technologies: MIMO antennas, NFV and network slicing
Vestberg highlighted several emerging technologies that he said are complementing the new network architecture by making the network more efficient.
"What is gaining the most capacity right now and performance in the networks on 4G is antennas," Vestberg said. "I had one antenna, now I have two antennas, we're going to four antennas." Multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO) is driving the development of active antenna equipment with more than one antenna per radio, and Vestberg said the consumer market is finally ready.
"If you deploy things in a network and you don't have the handsets it doesn't really matter, but now we see the handsets coming," Vestberg said, adding that with 3 billion people worldwide using 4G networks, 4G technology will be a focus of investment for years to come.
Network function virtualization, or the use of specialized software on commodity hardware in place of purpose-built hardware, is another focus for Verizon. Vestberg said it will take several years to retire current equipment and
replace it with new virtualized equipment, but that those changes will lead to a leaner, more efficient network. He said Verizon is working towards a "converged core," adding "I only need one of those."
Network slicing is another emerging technology that goes hand-in-hand with Verizon's vision of an intelligent edge network. This refers to a shared core network that can deliver different capabilities to different access points and even to different users. For example, a connected car will require very low latency while a content hub will need enormous bandwidth. Verizon wants to support both with the same network equipment.
Analyst Earl Lum has worked with leading antenna vendors for years and has developed a supply side market forecast that is unique in the industry. Lum's latest research forecasts market share by shipments and by revenue for 19 leading global antenna vendors, and explains the shift from passive to active antennas that will occur with the migration to 5G.
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