Experts look ahead: “Explosive growth of digital infrastructure continues”

Optical fiber is the basis for future-proof connectivity

2020 has been a memorable year for several reasons. First of all, there was the corona pandemic that gripped the world. Restrictive measures, such as working from home as much as possible, made the importance of a solid digital infrastructure even more visible. Organisations saw their digitisation gain momentum, partly due to the pandemic and this is expected to continue in the coming years. Speer IT asked various experts for their vision of the digital future. In the first part of the two-part series, Jaap van der Hout (DELTA Fiber Nederland) and Ian Drury (Ultranyx) look ahead.

Hybrid working continues

The corona pandemic determined the face of 2020 and in part also that of 2021. But 2020 was also the year in which Speer IT experienced its twentieth anniversary. A milestone that unfortunately had to be celebrated without any fuss. However, the anniversary is a good reason to let various experts take their crystal ball and sketch a picture of the future of the digital infrastructure. “Fiber-optic networks were already on the rise in recent years, which has only accelerated due to the corona pandemic,” says Jaap van der Hout, information manager at telecommunications company DELTA Fiber Nederland, known for the DELTA, Caiway and DELTA Fiber Netwerk. He is responsible for the so-called ‘Layer 1’ of his company’s network: the physical network infrastructure consisting of coax and fiber optic cables. “The pandemic has clearly shown that Internet services and bandwidth are becoming increasingly important.” Personally, I also think that this current forced hybrid working, a combination of office and home, will continue to exist in the future. This also means that demand for more bandwidth continues to rise. We’re already noticing this, for example, due to the rapidly increasing number of connections to our fiber-optic networks.”

The future looks bright for broadband in the Netherlands, it seems. Van der Hout does have a caveat, however. “To meet the growth in bandwidth demand, we and, we expect, other parties will continue to expand the digital infrastructure. This can pose challenges. And I’m not so much talking about the so-called rural areas and the big cities, because we already have good coverage there. Rather, it concerns the areas in between, the smaller urban centres and villages. We and other parties are expected to be installing optical fiber there in the coming years. Parties may run into each other there and that creates the necessary practical challenges. For example, in terms of efficiency and construction speed. A good registration of what is in the ground is desperately needed.”

Good registration of network assets is essential

Jaap van der Hout sees a crucial role for the registration of cables and other assets in the ground with the further expansion of the digital infrastructure, precisely because various providers are continuing to roll out their networks. “Good registration is essential, which is why we use Speer IT’s Cocon software, which we use to record our network infrastructure. It also offers parties with whom we work, such as mechanics and contractors, a low-threshold way to not only retrieve information, but also share their knowledge. This way, we prevent delays in the construction and maintenance of our networks. Because that’s something we can’t afford, now and in the future.”

British hunger for broadband

The advance of broadband is also clearly visible beyond the Dutch national borders. Take Great Britain, for instance. Ian Drury, co-founder and managing director of the British software manufacturer and IT services provider Ultranyx, knows all about it. His company serves, among others, the British telecommunications sector with software and services in the field of big data analysis and geolocation (location of objects by means of digitised information such as IP addresses). He has a telecommunications background himself. Years ago, at his former employer BT, he was involved in the first large-scale UK roll-out of broadband access to the Internet. “When we started Ultranyx about nine years ago, the demand for bandwidth in Great Britain was already growing. This has only accelerated, certainly in the recent period. Take video conferencing, for instance. When I worked at BT, we already used such conference methods. This has now become commonplace for a large part of the working population out of necessity. I wouldn’t be surprised if this development continued after the current pandemic. Organisations have now discovered that it is a (cost) efficient way to confer. In our opinion, it will not completely displace the physical meeting, but video conferencing is here to stay. These kinds of applications only further drive the demand for bandwidth. The renowned American market research company IDC has even mentioned a worldwide data consumption of 175 trillion Gigabytes by 2025. That’s not only due to video data, by the way, but also to the use of Internet of Things applications (IoT, ed.) and the introduction of 5G networks for mobile data. In the latter case, people often think no fixed network connection is needed but ultimately, all 5G data has to go to and from a data centre. And that’s only possible via a fixed fiber-optic connection.”

The network is an enabler

The mass use of technologies such as 5G, IoT and edge computing (processing data to the source as closely as possible) also ensures that telecommunications companies continue to expand their fiber-optic networks at a rapid pace. And it also means that the complexity of the core applications at telecommunications companies is increasing. Drury: Expanding the digital infrastructure requires accurate registration of all assets in the ground, both the fiber optic cables and everything else, from electricity to water pipes. The role of an application like Cocon will therefore become even more important when it comes to the cost-effective provision of services. Large amounts of complex data are generated from the core networks of telecommunication companies. It is crucial that they extract relevant information in real time, so they can base better operational decisions on that. I also foresee that operators will increasingly provide additional services and products, on top of their traditional connectivity range. Such as end-to-end cybersecurity services. It’s also something that is increasingly demanded by organisations.

Ultimately, the network is just an enabler. It’s about what you can deliver in terms of added value.”



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