A Network of Networks (NoN) refers to a type of communication infrastructure that connects multiple individual networks together to form a larger network. This larger network can then be used to exchange data and information across multiple domains, geographical locations, and organisational boundaries.
Bird’s eye view
Today’s mobile networks are becoming increasingly complex and distributed. There are now multiple networks at work behind the scenes handling more sophisticated operations. For instance, there are satellite-based networks, fixed wireless access networks, private mobile networks, IoT-based networks, cloud gaming networks, smart city networks and connected car networks.
And each of these networks has different ownership:
· Some are operated by traditional mobile network operators.
· Some are deployed by private enterprises.
· Others are public and leverage cloud-based infrastructure.
· And then there’s the hybrid network, which is a combination of some or all of the above.
5G will bring significant data demand to these networks, as well as new use cases. We will soon see new spectrums, mm-Wave, Massive MIMO, and point to exponential data growth, at about 5X current levels over the next few years. Expect application innovation in the areas like:
· Digital Twining
· Industrial IoT/Industry 4.0 and5.0
· Aerospace, Mining and Marine
Many of the new applications running on the networks require low latency and increased data volume. Therefore, the future network has to be highly decentralised so it can cope with these requirements:
· 5G networks will demand a very different, edge-centric architecture.
· There will be several small and private networks, and these networks will integrate with large MNO networks
New solutions are required to bring order to the chaos
One of the key benefits of a NoN is that it allows different networks to communicate and exchange information with each other, even if they use different protocols, formats, or technologies. This can be particularly useful in situations where there is a need to integrate diverse systems, share resources, or coordinate activities across multiple domains.
However, building and managing a NoN can be complex and challenging, as it requires a high degree of coordination, collaboration, and standardisation across the different networks. Additionally, there may be security and privacy concerns that need to be addressed, particularly when sensitive or confidential data is being shared between different networks.
Much has been written about how 5G Open RAN represents an opportunity for mobile operators to increase efficiency and flexibility in their networks. An open network can also be defined as one in which the underlying network infrastructure is available for use by multiple parties rather than being proprietary to a single operator. Not only does this allow for greater innovation and competition, but it also enables new business
models and services.
In the context of 5G, open networks allow MNOs to share resources and collaborate more easily with partners, such as other operators, content providers, and technology service providers. For example, an MNO operating in rural areas can utilise network slicing technology to share resources with such partners and reduce the cost of deployment.
‘Open’, particularly in the Radio Access Network (RAN), provides a way out of closed network ecosystems,
opening doors to a broader world of creativity, flexibility, and innovation in the mobile networks which underpin so much of the lives of individuals and organisations today. Open RAN looks to enable operators to mix and match components from multiple vendors and opens the interfaces inside the base station itself.
However, even though approximately 80% of network spend goes into the RAN, according to Allied
Market Research, it is still the last network function standing as a locked-down, aggregated vertical stack. This completely contradicts the global trend of openness and disaggregation,as ICT networks have modernised every aspect of commerce and information sharing – from software-defined networks (SDNs) to network function virtualisation (NFV).
With a truly open approach to building a network ecosystem, operators can disaggregate the final piece of the
puzzle and embrace the freedom of choice and accelerated innovation that comes with it.
Virtualization and cloudification delivers transformational opportunities
However, the value of Open RAN goes far beyond the use of open fronthaul interfaces. These interfaces open the doors to a wider transformation of the RAN – and to complete the transformation of wireless networks that virtualization, automation, and cloud-native architectures can drive. To get the full benefits of Open RAN – flexibility, choice, and innovation – operators must deploy it as part of the wider evolution of network
architecture and operations.
5G open networks will accelerate the migration of products and services to the cloud. Leveraging cloud computing and 5G technology creates advantages that enterprises of all kinds will be able to benefit from. With services like Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC), Mobile Cloud Computing (MCC), and various networking architectures, including network slicing, the impending release of 5G services will result in the eventual commencement of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) capabilities which operators can offer to businesses in all verticals.
An open network management platform also enables operators to go one step further towards offering
differentiated, customisable, and on-demand network-as-a-service solutions and delivering them in an agile way to each customer.
What happened with 3G and 4G networks?
Throughout the last decade, mobile operators have remained focused on value optimisation in the last mile rather
than capturing value in the ‘digitalisation’ of society. While the connectivity through the evolution from 3G to 4G brought increasing amounts of data traffic over operators’ networks, the real opportunities created by 4G and the value in the digitalisation of modern society was successfully exploited by over-the-top (OTT) service providers and hyperscalers, with apps like Uber, Netflix, Facebook, WhatsApp etc. Rather than operators, 4G delivered massive new revenues to these companies and thousands of other successful startups.
However, if operators can evolve their business and skillsets, and adapt to the new world of open networks and
ubiquitous, intelligent edge connectivity, their futures can be successfully defined for the coming decades.
What will happen with 5G and beyond?
Nevertheless, the trajectory from 3G to 4G,to 5G to 6G and beyond has been, and will be evolutionary rather than revolutionary. The reality is that 5G is a phased delivery and rollout. Depreciation cycles of 5-7 years or longer will mean that a number of operators are not yet in a position to consider the switch to open networks.
We should expect Open RAN deployment to be gradual rather than rapid because it is a complex
transformation that requires careful assessment. Network operators are running critical national infrastructure, they have obligations towards customers, regulators, and even governments. They cannot make technological changes lightly and telecom supplier diversification doesn’t happen overnight.
Introducing a new vendor into those environments is complex and the process may take several years.
European and Far Eastern operators increasingly realise there is a need to change, and management teams are
beginning to act. There is a shift happening in mindsets towards a more 360-degree perspective on network planning, procurement, and operational organisation, but this change will still take time to materialise.
5G networks can impact every aspect of the way we live, work, and play. Collectively, we have an opportunity to create a truly connected society that takes full advantage of real-time communication, entertainment, and ready access to information from connected buildings, vehicles, classrooms, factories, and hospitals. It’s a radical change, an opportunity to leap into the future where our world is better connected, making lives safer, healthier, smarter, and more productive.