Network Transformation: Innovating on the Path to 5G


Close your eyes and try to count the number of times you’ve connected with computing today.  Hard to do? We have all witnessed this fundamental change: Computing has moved from a productivity tool to an essential part of ourselves, something that shapes the way we live, work, and engage in community.

Now, imagine how many times today you’ve thought about the network connectivity making all of these experiences possible.  Unless you’re like me, someone who is professionally invested in network innovation, the answer is probably close to zero.  But all of those essential experiences delivered every day to all of us would not exist without an amazing array of networking technologies working in concert.

In this light, the network is everything you can’t see, but you can’t live without.  And without serious innovation of the network, all of the amazing computing innovations expected in the next few years simply won’t be able to be experienced in the way they were intended.

At the Intel Developer Forum today, I had the pleasure of sharing the stage with my colleague Aicha Evans and industry leaders from SK Telecom, Verizon, and Ericsson, as we shared Intel’s vision for 5G networks from device to data center.  In this post, I’d like to share a few imperatives to deliver the agile and performant networks required to fuel the next wave of innovation.  IDF was the perfect place to share this message given that it all starts with the power of community: developers from across the industry working together to deliver impactful change.

So what’s changing? Think about the connectivity problems we experience today: dropped calls, constant buffering of streaming video, or downloading delays. Imagine if not only those problems disappeared, but new immersive experiences like 3D virtual reality gaming, real-time telemedicine, and augmented reality became pervasive in our everyday lives? In 5G, we believe it will.

5G is, of course, the next major upgrade to cellular connectivity and represents improved performance but even more importantly, massive increases in the intelligence and flexibility of the network. One innovation in this area is Mobile Edge Computing (MEC).  To imagine the mobile edge, imagine cell tower base stations embedded with cloud computing based intelligence, or “cloudlets”, creating the opportunity for network operators to deliver high performance, low latency services like the ones I shared above.

As networks become more intelligent, the services that run on them become more intelligent too. MEC will provide the computing power to also deliver Service Aware Networks, which will dynamically process and prioritize traffic based on service type and application. As a result, operators gain more control, developers are more easily able to innovate new personalized services, and users gain higher quality of experience.

Another exciting innovation is Anchor-Booster technology, which takes advantage of the principles of Software Defined Networking (SDN). It allows devices to take better advantage of spectrum like millimeter wave to boost network throughput by 10X or more.

These technologies may seem futuristic, but Intel has already been working with the industry for several years to use cloud technology to reinvent the network similar to how it reinvented the data center. We call this network transformation, and it represents moving from fixed function, purpose built network infrastructure to adaptable networks based on Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) and SDN.  Within this model, network functions now reside within virtual machines or software containers, managed by centralized controllers and orchestrators, and dynamically provisioned to meet the needs of the network.  The change that this represents to the communication service provider industry is massive. NFV & SDN are dramatically changing the rate of innovation of communications networking and creating enormous opportunities for the industry to deliver new services at cloud pace.

Our work is well underway.  As a key pillar of our efforts, we established the Intel Network Builders program two years ago at IDF, and since its inception it has grown to over 170 industry leaders, including strategic end users, working together towards solution optimization, trials, and dozens of early commercial deployments.

And today, I was excited to announce the next step towards network transformation with the Intel® Network Builders Fast Track, a new investment and collaboration initiative to ignite solution stack delivery, integrate proven solutions through blueprint publications, and optimize solution performance and interoperability through new third party labs and interoperability centers. These programs were specifically designed to address the most critical challenges facing broad deployment of virtualized network solutions and are already being met with enthusiasm and engagement by our Intel Network Builders members, helping us all towards delivery of a host of new solutions for the market.  If you’re engaged in the networking arena as a developer of solutions or a provider, I encourage you to engage with us as we transform the network together.

Imagine: No more dropped calls, no more buffered video. Just essential experiences delivered in the manner intended, and exciting new experiences to further enrich the way we live and work. The delivery of this invisible imperative just became much clearer.