Engineering Today's Network for Tomorrow's Internet Experience

Pieter Poll

The next generation of telecommunications networks will change the world in new and exciting ways just as they always have. I believe that future is here and already taking shape as the telecommunications industry morphs into something entirely new: an experience driven by the customer.

Recently, a poll conducted by the BBC World Service found that 'almost four in five people around the world believe that access to the Internet is a fundamental right.' Clearly, advances in telecommunications have increased people's appetite and expectation for more. More speed, more connectivity, more applications and more control. In today's world, people expect service on their terms, not on their carriers'.

The consumption of data is explosive and overwhelms much of what we do. When you look at consumer data trends for Qwest customers, total peak consumption increases about 55 percent each year. I see this daily in my role as CTO of Qwest, and I experience it daily in my family life. 

My own home experience is typical and reflects this statistic. When I received a portable video player for the holidays, my monthly household usage stabilized at about 8 gigabytes. However, recently my monthly use jumped to 40 gigabytes as my family and I began watching streaming videos, delivered over the Internet, on our home TV. In fact, on Qwest's network, video of some form now constitutes more than 50 percent of all peak-hour consumer Internet traffic.

What's happening is that the very existence of speed is encouraging Internet use in new and different ways.  This in turn puts pressure on bandwidth capacity of the Internet. Just as Say's Law from 1803 - the law of markets-predicts, the total supply of goods and services in an economy will equal the total demand during any given period.  In network terms, that means there will never be a general bandwidth glut because as carriers add network capacity, people will find new and compelling ways to use it.

The explosion of mobile devices and applications is also putting pressure on the network. For example, in addition to her other interactions with her smartphone, my wife now sends about 350 text messages a month.  However, my 13-year-old son consumes 70 times as much data as my wife via his mobile device, almost none of it text messaging. I offer this to illustrate the point that as people consume more data, the availability of bandwidth creates new ways for people to consume that data. And networks must stand up to the challenge of creating an outstanding customer experience.  

People often are surprised to learn that wireless service providers rely on land-based networks, like Qwest's, to carry traffic between cell sites and the cellular network as well as the Internet-whether it's across a city, across a country or across the world. And due to the growth of smart wireless devices and the thirst for bandwidth, wireless service providers must radically upgrade the lines feeding cellular sites.  Those companies are turning to carriers including Qwest for that backhaul support.  And when that traffic reaches the Internet, networks must be ready for it. That's in part why Qwest is upgrading its backbone to support 100 Gigabit transmission rates between our core routers and meet the need for ever-increasing speed.  

However, while Internet use is going up, one thing is clear: Consumers are not willing to pay 50-plus percent more every year for their broadband plans.  As CTO, I think constantly about how to bring our variable bit costs down and understand the equation: As usage goes up exponentially, prices cannot. There is a customer obligation to bring the per-bit costs down, and I try to never lose sight of the future Internet user's point of view.   

Changing customer behaviors need to be accommodated, so I am relentlessly focused on engineering today's network for tomorrow's Internet experience. That's why it is important to Qwest to build out our network. Qwest is taking a 'smart build' approach to deploying fiber so that we can reach neighborhoods with fiber-to-the-node, reach cell sites with fiber-to-the-cell and extend fiber laterals to businesses along these routes. This way we are serving all of our business and consumer customers in a manner that makes highly efficient use of the industry's capital resources. 

What's coming with the next generation of the Internet is the intelligent home, the intelligent building and the intelligent city. We will always be connected, everywhere, all the time. These next-generation networks will require a new kind of engineering to deliver this fully integrated experience. Paradoxically, we must prepare for things we cannot imagine and prepare for future customers who might not be driving a car yet.  We are planning now for this next generation of customer expectations.

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