Where are today’s bandwidth limitations – and how can they be overcome?

Network infrastructure and capabilities have matured at such an incredible rate over the past two decades that it can seem like there's no limit to how far this technology can go. But just like anything else, bandwidth is affected by physical hardware and can be constrained by environmental factors. Those limitations impact the rate at which data travels across the network, leading to service quality problems.

Issues like spectrum crunch are very real concerns in the telecom industry, and companies in this space need to make plans to overcome these obstacles and continue providing fast, high-quality telecom services well into the future. Until more networking infrastructure gets built out – more fiber, more satellites and so forth – current network infrastructure needs to be more flexible and more efficient.

So how can companies do more with less bandwidth? We must reconsider the basic building blocks of existing infrastructure and question assumptions: Rather than making every contract dedicated – and sometimes largely unused, we should look to the future and plan out tomorrow's consumption model built on leveraging SDN capabilities.

Bringing data to developing countries

According to a 2017 Akamai report, average worldwide internet connectivity speeds increased 15 percent over the previous year, but there is still a clear delineation between the haves and the have-nots. The top 10 leaders in global internet speed continue to reflect developed nations like Norway, Japan and the United States. South Korea sits atop of the heap as the only country in the world with average network speeds exceeding 25 Mbps.

Not all nations have witnessed similar trends, however. Several developing countries, including Gabon, Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, actually saw their average network speeds decline from 2016 to 2017. Yemen saw the worst performance in the world, with a 24 percent quarterly decrease to bring its average bandwidth speed down to 1 Mbps.

Infrastructure remains a major challenge for developing nations across the board. Laying the foundation to bring terrestrial networks to these regions is difficult – if not impossible – with current conditions. Yet beyond laying down much needed fiber, gains can still be made: The beauty of SDN capabilities is that it's a more flexible and a more efficient use of exising network infrastructure. It allows us to move from a dedicated model to a consumption of usage based model which allows for freeing up more network across the board.

Alternative measures will be necessary to overcome infrastructure obstacles and maintain data speeds that meet the standards of the developed world. Satellite and hybrid orbital-terrestrial networks can provide bandwidth in remote or otherwise impenetrable areas. With the help of SDN technology, carriers can reduce latency and other service disruptions. Carriers can even employ SDN capabilities on the satellite networks that are already in place to drastically improve data transmission speeds and network availability in these regions.The future of the internet and communications in developing nations could be in the sky above our heads.

Providing fast network speeds to remote locations is a huge challenge for telcos.Providing fast network speeds to remote locations is a huge challenge for telcos.

Remote installations' bandwidth woes

In some instances, developed countries struggle with bandwidth speeds as much as other parts of the world. The energy industry, for instance, relies on numerous installations spread out across the far reaches of the globe. Oil rigs, remote extraction facilities and ocean-cruising ships all require strong network connectivity to operate effectively.

Providing that level of performance is easier said than done, though. In many cases, terrestrial networks are out of the question, and satellite systems are impacted by environmental issues like inclement weather.

"Hybrid orbital-terrestrial networks could provide relief."

Hybrid orbital-terrestrial networks could provide relief in these scenarios, particularly when paired with SDN capabilities. Operators would be able to allocate bandwidth according to need and prevent network disruptions, latency and outages. For a more immediate impact, companies could implement SDN services to improve service quality with existing satellite networks, bringing stronger connectivity than ever before to remote sites and installations.

Accounting for 'heavy' data

Not all bandwidth is created equal. Streaming video, for instance, involves a lot more data and is far more taxing on networks than basic VoIP services. With the Internet of Things ramping up, there is more data than ever for telecoms to account for, and much of that will be intensive and difficult to transmit.

Telecom companies face a major conundrum here: How do they maintain service quality and speed while accounting for "heavy" data types? After all, there's only so much bandwidth to go around.

Next-generation network technology, such as software-defined networking, can be extremely helpful in easing bandwidth limitations and providing high availability and fast network speeds to customers at all times. With more control over network capabilities, telecoms can manage their bandwidth effectively and make better choices about where finite resources are allocated.

The future of network infrastructure presents its fair share of challenges, and bandwidth limitations will be among the top obstacles that the telecom industry will need to address. Until the day comes that more infrastructure is created to meet demand, telecom companies need to make existing networks for flexible and efficient. Advancements in network capabilities such as SDN provide potential answers to these pressing concerns. Organizations that begin making plans today will find a much brighter future before them.