The future of connectivity

Summary: The world of network and connectivity is growing and changing constantly. Learn about what your business needs to face challenges and prepare for what's to come.

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Key Takeaways:

The importance of a holistic approach to connectivity

Any good comprehensive view of connectivity has to go beyond the traditional core, edge, and access model to include cloud services and endpoints. This approach is crucial in addressing compound data inflation and the shift towards IPV6 to alleviate the scarcity of IPV4 addresses, underscoring the need for Vodafone to invest in expanding its network capacity and adopting new technologies.

Prepare for quantum encryption and 100 per cent availability

Get ahead of quantum computing's ability to break current encryption standards and know that achieving 100 per cent network availability is crucial Prepare for these eventualities through harnessing technological advancements and strategic investments to ensure secure and reliable connectivity for users, regardless of their location.

Human-centric connectivity and Zero Trust security are key

A shift towards human-centric connectivity, where user experience is prioritized over technical metrics, is essential for the future. Additionally, the adoption of a Zero Trust approach to IT security is necessary to ensure secure access to corporate IT assets in a world where remote and hybrid working have become the norm.

In a world where technology is ever-evolving, it's crucial to stay ahead by challenging conventional thinking. This was the central theme of Andy Linham's keynote at Vodafone's "Future of Connectivity" event on March 13th, 2024.

Linham, Vodafone Group's Principal Strategy Manager, painted a vivid picture of an imminent major technological shift and how Vodafone and its customers can navigate this change.

From enhancing network speeds to fostering a shared understanding of connectivity, he outlined strategies for embracing the future. Linham emphasized the traditional model of core, edge, and access networks but argued for a more holistic view that includes the cloud and endpoints. This approach acknowledges the increased rate of data inflation and the exhaustive use of IPV4 addresses, highlighting the transition to IPV6 and the potential overhaul of the IP protocol stack.

“The challenges we face are multi-faceted, ranging from the need to increase network speeds, logistical issues around how we deliver better availability and the need to move towards a closer shared understanding of how we think about connectivity,” said Linham.

“Anyone who’s been around networking in recent years will tell you that it’s almost always spoken about in the context of core, edge and access. The core is the high-speed heart of the global network, the edge is the smart perimeter for the global core, where you apply intelligence to your key functions, and when you get down to access, that’s the last mile where you connect your users to their data,” he said.

But he suggested, this is an incomplete picture of how real-life use of these technologies works. To complete the story, it’s necessary to also discuss the private and public clouds that host workloads, as well as the endpoints, the physical and virtual devices that connect to the network.

“We need to talk about core, edge, access, cloud and endpoints, because there are changes coming to how all of these functions.”

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Core, edge, access, cloud, and endpoint

According to Linham, he and his team are seeing compound data inflation of about 20 percent each year on Vodafone’s network, and to keep up, the company is investing significantly in being able to carry more and more traffic each year. However, this is just one of a few key issues that will impact core connectivity.

“Core networks are bundled with enterprise WAN services but around ten years ago, as an industry, we ran out of IPV4 addresses and that’s now becoming a serious issue. Almost every device that connects to the Internet has an IPV4 address, and there are so many out there that these addresses have become rare and have appreciated in value,” said Linham.

“Amazon Web Services, for example, is apparently sitting on $4.5 billion of value in its IPV4 addresses alone. To get the best use out of the addresses we have, we’ve had to become very efficient in how we use them.”

Linham explained that IPV6 is the next generation protocol expected to help alleviate this issue, as it offers billions more addresses. But, he said, the reality is that the code running the internet was written in the 1960s and is no longer really fit for purpose.

“Ultimately, I think we will replace the entirety of the IP protocol stack. Alongside that, we have to invest in speed, and in terms of capacity we need to get up to ‘terabits per second’ data transfer rates. Right now we have ‘line of sight‘ on achieving 1.6 terabits per second by 2030, but this growth isn’t going to stop or slow down, it’s going to increase.”

“Likewise, SD-WAN is an important technology with growth rates of around 37 per cent and it’s going to remain so as we find new ways to apply the principles it uses to other parts of the stack. Right now, it’s how we take cloud-based control and integrate it with the wider parts of our network, but there is lots more potential here.”

“SD-LAN and Software Defined Cloud Interconnect (SDCI) are hot on its heels and deliver similar benefits in terms of visibility and agility.”

Hand touching server

Preparing for quantum encryption

Linham next pointed to a significant upcoming change in data encryption, as advances in technology will render current encryption standards vulnerable to being broken.

“Something like 85 per cent of internet data is encrypted using IPsec. It’s been great and has worked for a long time now but increasingly we’re being told that quantum computers are just around the corner and they’ll be able to crack IPsec. That’s something we need to be ready for,” he said.

“Already we’re seeing reports of cybercriminals engaging in ‘store now, decrypt later’ schemes, in which they stockpile stolen encrypted data in the expectation of being able to decrypt and monetise it later.”

100 percent availability

Linham also pointed out that while availability has always been a crucial metric of success in connectivity, it’s likely to become even more critical as use cases evolve. Staying ahead of demand will mean embracing lots of different complimentary technologies, including satellite and wireless access.

“Availability is the defining service metric that all services are assessed against, and this is due to the criticality of the network to customers today and a traditional lack of trust in some services. We as a vendor will need to be able to offer 100 percent availability and harness the various technologies we have access to in order to make this reality, such as Low Earth Orbit satellite and Fixed Wireless Access,” said Linham.

“More and more workloads are going into the cloud and users are much more distributed. They’re working remotely from coffee shops, train stations, airports and more, and the network is crucial. If the network isn't there, those users can't work and problems cascade from there.”

Smartphone showing infographs of of solar energy being used by a business

Human-centric connectivity

This degree of dependence creates challenges, but also opportunities for those involved in delivering connectivity, Linham believes. To start with, businesses like Vodafone are realising that they’re in the experience business, not the connectivity business.

“For my money, performance of the network will be hugely important, as ever, in future but it needs to be expressed in human-like terms. We won’t be talking about jitter, round trip times, latency and using the other boring technical metrics that we have used for years, we'll be talking much more about user-experience and the kind of impact the network has on the way users access applications,” he said.

“After all, the end user doesn’t care how this stuff works, they only care about how it's impacting their day and effecting their ability to get what they need to get done, done.”

Zero trust for all

Towards the end of his presentation, Linham argued strongly that 5G slicing, low earth orbit (LEO) access and the concept of ‘splinternets’ will become more established, driven by an enduring need to facilitate anytime, anywhere hybrid working. And while the metaverse is most closely associated with VR and gaming functions in the public consciousness, it should also be understood as a feature of unified communications and presence, and it’s here to stay.

“Most important is that the Zero Trust approach to IT security needs to become ubiquitous. All users of corporate IT assets, whether inside or outside an organisation’s network, should be identified, authorised and have their access continuously validated for security before being granted access to applications, data and assets,” he said.

“As a concept, Zero Trust is over a decade old but it’s extremely difficult to really enforce. It’s aspirational stuff, as there are almost always holes in your security. However, inspired by the pandemic and hybrid working, it’s become much more widely practised, and that’s a good thing.”

“Remote access is where this shines, and it’s achieved using software access services that use policies that are highly conditional. They take account not just of a person’s credentials, but also their location and even the time of day, before granting access.”

Smartphone showing infographs of of solar energy being used by a business

Recap and summary

To summarise, at the "Future of Connectivity" event Linham outlined a view of the evolving landscape of connectivity and technology. He focused on some of the impending shifts in technology on the way and detailed how Vodafone and its stakeholders can adapt to these changes by re-evaluating traditional approaches to connectivity.

There are multifaceted challenges to this, such as the need to facilitate increased network speeds, improve availability and embrace a broader perspective on connectivity that includes core, edge, access, cloud and endpoints.

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