Michiel Panders, R&M general manager Europe, looks at public networks, LAN and data centre trends for the year ahead

Every year, R&M researches all the latest innovations in public networks, LAN and Data Centres. Once we have a clear view of the key trends, we examine their significance for applications such as Fibre to the Home, 5G antennas, smart buildings. I would like to share some of our key findings with you.

Aerial rollouts will help close gaps in remote regions

The telecom industry will continue and accelerate to make major investments in Fibre to the Home. However, in many cases, expansion into sparsely populated areas is not yet viable. Aerial deployment is an attractive - and often the only - option for fast and cost-effective FTTH rollouts in remote locations. Improved products for aerial deployment will help broadband providers roll out Fibre to the Home faster, and this requires fibre optic cables and splice closures to be installed with minimal effort. This need is driving new technologies that allow fast mounting.

Connectivity technology for 5G antennas

The market launch of 5G technology is causing a wave of investments. Mobile phone companies are building and expanding numerous antenna sites and have to connect them with fibre optic networks – known as Fibre to the Antenna (FTTA). Here, too, innovations in connection and assembly technology are pushing their way onto the market. They help to set up outdoor infrastructures quickly, safely, and simply. FTTH and FTTA can currently grow together or complement each other, enabling synergies which save significantly on development costs.

Cabling for smart buildings

The hunger for bandwidth continues in buildings. But today the local data network has to offer more than just bandwidth for the office. We need a comprehensive view of smart buildings and have to integrate more functions and technologies to enable the digitalization of building management.

New technologies such as Single Pair Ethernet are gaining ground in the building cabling market and finally opening the door to digital building management. Single Pair Ethernet (SPE) will help transform buildings into smart buildings and operate them automatically. SPE makes it easy to extend building networks to the farthest corners.

As offices are being repopulated and people have become used to remote working during the pandemic, building needs will change further. It’s important to anticipate with the architecture of the infrastructure for whatever consequences this may bring. Whilst it will be hard to predict to future, we can learn from the past. Previously, office cabling networks were designed for connecting the desktop. Before long, IP Telephony, Wi-Fi , video, IP surveillance and other new platforms were introduced, causing cabling networks to be expanded or overhauled way sooner than the planned lifetime. The addition of devices will continue to enable greater comfort and security in the workplace and reduce environmental impact at the same time. PoE will play an important role as enabling technology for this, implying a crucial impact on the design of the cabling systems. Power also adds a completely new dimension. Networks are expected to remain in operation for 15+ years, so let’s design for what is likely to come in the next 10 years as a minimum, for both bandwidth and power.

Challenges for data centres

For data centres, a new stage in high-speed data transmission is beginning. They have to comprehensively automate their network management in order to be able to reliably control the growing number of fibre optic cables and plug connections.

We’re seeing a migration to faster networks and the introduction of 400 and 800 Gigabit Ethernet. Data centre providers have to prepare themselves for drastic changes in FO infrastructure. In the rooms and racks, they’ll have to significantly increase cabling and connectivity even further. Also, there’s increased demand for turnkey solutions, especially for mid-range and scale-up solutions. In many cases, there’s no dedicated specialist in place on the client side, which means there’s a need for expert advice and integrated solutions.

Management and implementation of latest innovative optical connector systems play an important role. In dense racks, cables are more difficult to handle. This is why prefabricated cable systems are increasingly being launched on the market. However, data centres that house hundreds of thousands of fibre optic connections in sensitive operating environments and have to respond to new market requirements on a permanent basis can no longer be managed in the traditional way. That is why it is important to find the right solutions for automated infrastructure management.

Other data centre considerations

I think it’s vital that companies like our own can offer a very wide range of solutions. For example, some clients want to place everything in the cloud, whereas others have reasons (possibly based on legislation) for preferring an on-premise solution, or a combination of both. Regarding on-premise, as people are now used to cloud-based services that they can simply switch on as and when needed, time to capacity is essential. Once a solutions has been specified, people will no longer accept lead times of months or even weeks! Integrated solutions that can be easily extended (and relocated) form a key enabler for shortening and assuring time to capacity. Suppliers should also be able to offer hardware, as well as a wide range of monitoring and management solutions, as well as knowledge and support for implementation, operations, and optimization. This extends beyond directly network-related subjects, but also includes topics such as helping clients realise their CSR and sustainability goals. This kind of approach combined with a broad portfolio makes life much easier for end-users – it becomes simpler to specify a fully integrated solution and get products and consulting in one place.