2021: the year of convergence for business and residential networks

Network connectivity generic NEW (1).jpg

David Noguer Bau, director of service provider solutions at Juniper Networks, writes about the convergence of business and residential networks and the dramatic implications for service providers.

Digital transformation topped many business agendas long before 2020. But the events of last year have catapulted it to the top of the priority list for many businesses around the world.

Now that working from home has become more common (even the norm), the pace of digital transformation—and therefore network transformation—has dramatically increased.

According to a recent McKinsey report, businesses expect a notable acceleration in their digital transformation initiatives as a direct result of the pandemic. The well-worn concept of digital transformation as a slow and ongoing process has been superseded by a new reality; one that requires transformation and agility to meet the shifting wants and needs of our society, but which promises to introduce changes that are here to stay. Ultimately, the new reality is clear: digital transformation is no longer a differentiator. It is now a fundamental business requirement.

If 2020 was a watershed, 2021 promises to bring further changes as organisations continue to digitise. As a result of this new hybrid working environment to which so many organisations have shifted, 2021 will be the year of ‘convergence’ for business and residential networks. Until now, the needs and characteristics of residential and business lines have been quite distinct, with major differences in uptime, bandwidth/speed limitations and product features. These distinctions were often reflected in Service Level Agreements (SLAs)—for example, the requirement to deploy redundant fibre paths for enterprise networks, compared to residential lines, where criticality may not be baked into the same extent. The increased normalisation of remote working and hybrid working environments, particularly over the course of 2020, has ignited and accelerated this transition, as service providers seek to enhance residential SLAs to meet these new demands.

Home/business convergence: dramatic implications for SPs and users

This convergence of business and residential networks will have dramatic implications for service providers and the customers they serve. Slow connections or unanticipated downtime can lead to losses in productivity, data or revenue, as well as damages to brand and reputation that can’t be easily quantified. With a large number of employees working from home, business criticality will now very much extend into the home network. In this new era, enterprises will look to service providers (SPs) that can guarantee a reliable internet service that is sufficiently fast and secure for today’s business requirements—regardless of where their employees are located. This isn’t just conjecture; the aforementioned McKinsey report demonstrates that businesses across EMEA are moving their services online en masse. In just one year, we have moved from reliance on networks for some sectors and mechanisms, to every sector relying on strong and secure networks to continue conducting their business day in, day out.

The ongoing logistical complexities of providing rural areas with a reliable internet connection will, of course, continue to be a challenge for SPs.

Europe has seen swathes of Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) and Fibre to the Home (FTTH) broadband deployments since the introduction of ‘Very high-speed Digital Subscriber Line’ (VDSL) technology, however many rural areas still lack viable access to a modern broadband network. The cost of the required infrastructure upgrades, however, can often be prohibitive. Fortunately, innovations in wireless network technology can help address these challenges and deliver improved network performance and speed at scale. The introduction of 5G will help drive Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) adoption, thanks to 5G’s fast bandwidth and low-latency connections. This innovation will not only help meet the needs of residential customers, it will potentially also be a game-changer for businesses large and small. With fast, secure connectivity, they will be better able to move goods and services online, respond to market changes and keep pace with rapidly evolving business models and customer needs.

2021 promises to bring both challenges and opportunities for SPs. Whilst they will continue to provide distinct home and business offerings, we can expect to see residential services evolve and become more sophisticated with the introduction of new offerings such as home-work packages, improved SLAs and the inclusion of additional services once typically focused on businesses, such as VPNs, managed Wi-Fi or LTE backup. Furthermore, we can expect SPs to rely on 5G technology to address the urgent issue of reliable broadband access in remote areas, and to ensure they can effectively handle the explosive growth in data traffic. In 2021, more than ever before, businesses and residential customers alike will demand new and enhanced connected experiences from their SPs, setting the stage for a long-term transformation of the way we live, work and connect.