Beyond Speed: The New Era of Broadband Innovation

Are you still trying to attract customers based on ever-increasing gigabit speeds? This may not be enough to gain a competitive advantage in today’s broadband industry. We are entering a new era – one in which the market prioritizes seamless connectivity over technical metrics.

Users want technology that will work everywhere all the time, without any interruption. They don’t care if the operator can deliver 100 Gbps if their connection drops at a pivotal moment.

The broadband industry has reached a tipping point where incremental gains in speed no longer provide the substantive improvements to customer experiences they are accustomed to. As Quality of Service (QoS) improves over time, user expectations have also evolved. Users are spending more and more time online, and they want higher-quality experiences and predictable delivery that doesn’t crash or drop as they go about their day, whether they’re at home, on the go, or anywhere in between.

In other words, users don’t want to think about their networks. They just want them to work, wherever they are.

To achieve this result, the industry needs a network that can anticipate and adapt to users’ needs in real time as they move between networks and applications. Ultimately, the goal is ubiquitous communication, and awareness of context fades into the background.

how do we get there? First, let’s look at the three eras of broadband innovation outlined in CableLabs’ technology vision: speed, expertise, and adaptability.

CableLabs Technology Vision: Era of Broadband Innovation
(Click on the drawing to enlarge)

Where we started: the age of speed

The early days of broadband innovation focused on metrics. Speed ​​was the moving target for DOCSIS®️ 1.0 and DOCSIS 3.1 technologies, and the goal was to improve metrics that were visible to consumers. Companies have touted higher and faster speeds as a competitive advantage, and today we can deliver 10 Gbps, with even greater speed increases on the horizon.

While essential to the future of the industry, speed has reached a saturation point. It has abdicated its position as the primary driver of usage and is now an expectation rather than a differentiator. Certainly, higher speeds are likely to happen in the future, but the focus has shifted to providing clear value in terms of experience.

Where Are We: The Age of Experience

Broadband usage has reached an inflection point, with users needing such services in almost every aspect of their lives. They expect their networks to not only be reliable – and reliably fast – but also to transform the way they live, work, learn and play by enabling optimal experiences in all their online interactions. Seamless connectivity has become the new goal of the online experience.

Achieving these customer expectations will require advances in smart devices and telemetry, seamless communications across networks, and context-aware user-device interactions. Operators will also need a comprehensive understanding of network performance and how it impacts application experiences.

DOCSIS 4.0 brings us closer to seamless user experiences with its ability to deliver multi-gigabit symmetric speeds while supporting high reliability, high security, and low latency. Although networking technology innovations have expanded user experience metrics beyond speed, true seamless connectivity remains elusive.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to the problem of seamless connectivity. In addition to the performance of their individual networks, service providers must also consider:

How to improve delivery as customers move from one network to another How different user apps and devices impact the user experience How to meet the growing demand for personalized experiences that anticipate needs before any disruption occurs How to deliver uninterrupted experiences as users move through different environments

Online experiences in an environment like a hotel, for example, currently depend on that hotel’s Wi-Fi network. This means that communication may be faulty or service may be disrupted, leaving customers frustrated and their expectations not met. The goal in the Experience Age is to ensure a Wi-Fi experience that matches those expectations no matter where the user is.

The problem is that measuring actual user experience is not easy. Today we have limited smart grid metrics that help us predict what the experience will be like, and there is still significant work to be done in this area.

However, we have seen some promising developments in linking metrics to experimental outcomes.

In recent work by CableLabs, we have explored the possibility of linking application key performance indicators (KPIs) to network KPIs. Through our work on Quality by Design (QbD), we can leverage the customer’s direct application experience to identify network failures and take action on these issues before the user experience deteriorates. This can alleviate frustrating customer experiences and eliminate many unnecessary customer service interactions that result from not understanding the real-time user experience.

Where Are We Going: The Age of Adaptation

Ultimately, the focus on user experience will shift to an age of adaptation that leverages self-configuration, sensing components to understand environmental factors and predictive algorithms that anticipate future events to ensure uninterrupted experiences. The networks of the future will be smarter, more capable, less visible, and will fade into the background.

To achieve this outcome, industry stakeholders will need to work together to achieve continued increases in capacity, significant improvements in reliability and network intelligence, and increased understanding of the network to facilitate proactive responses. Focus areas in the Adaptation Era will include:

Full Automation and Digital Network Twins – As more smart components are integrated into the technology, we will have access to telemetry that does not exist on the network today. The data will help us understand network performance in more detail and build automation into the network. Completely self-healing — The network will identify failures or vulnerabilities and automatically redirect data or allocate resources to maintain functionality. Self-Configuration – We have some self-configuration technologies today, but they are still fairly primitive. In the adaptive era, learning algorithms will be built, they will be responsive and able to configure themselves according to the environment and the way users interact. Unrestricted Network Capabilities – Customers will be able to access their services from anywhere using Network as a Service (NaaS). Achieving this goal will require partnerships between service providers and networks to create a common understanding. Pervasive Sensing – The ability to sense fiber components, Wi-Fi, construction and other events will enable predictive adaptability and proactive responses. Self-optimization — Through continuous analysis of performance metrics and user requirements, future networks will be able to optimize resource allocation, routing paths, and other parameters for best performance.

The infrastructure needed to create these types of experiments is still in the early stages of development. However, we are starting to see broadband innovations that include adaptable elements. Examples include:

Automatic Profile Management Changes – Built-in mechanisms detect a problem in one network section and shift traffic to a different band within that frequency. Smart Home Technology – Smart home devices, such as thermostats and lighting systems, use sensors to understand environmental factors. They can then adjust the settings accordingly, creating a more comfortable and energy efficient living space. Environmental Sensing – Using various sensors and algorithms, networks can sense environmental events (e.g., seismic activity, nearby construction, etc.) and alert first responders or respond to avoid power outages.

What’s next for the industry?

Providing seamless, real-time connectivity – and enabling truly optimal app experiences – won’t happen overnight. To achieve this, we will need to work together as an industry to solve complex system-level problems and develop common platforms for interoperability.

Overall, the industry must move away from focusing on improving network metrics such as speed. Operators must prioritize delivering personalized, seamless and adaptable experiences built on interoperability. Doing so will require common interfaces to support interoperability, integrated definitions and data structures, as well as cooperation between service providers and networks.

CableLabs’ technology vision seeks to move the industry forward by helping our members deliver outstanding customer experiences everywhere and align the industry on a concise model of building adaptable networks by:

The seamless network platform advances pervasive intelligence, security and privacy

To design and implement the technologies and operational models of the future, operators will need to develop a shared understanding that turns the vision of the Adaptive Age into a reality for every customer. Together, we can deliver flexible, reliable network solutions capable of enabling new services and improving user experiences.

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