Top Network Transformation Predictions for 2021


This time of the year always leads to a massive influx of predictions for what is just over the horizon. If anything, 2020 showed us that changes that were long in the making could practically be implemented overnight, whether we’re talking about supporting home offices or overall network capacity. In the wake of profound disruption, the experts now see 2021 as marking a turning point for networks.

In our roundup of networking insights from industry experts, analysts, journalists, vendors and telecom executives, we’ll explore the potential for 2021 to make networks an exciting year,  truly transforming how service provider operate.

#1 Disaggregated Routers Will Become a Thing

Expect to see  Service Providers boost network capacity and reset their operational metrics for the new Post-Covid traffic levels and patterns. Dell’Oro Group’s Shin Umeda expects that “Disaggregated routers—white box hardware with independent operating system software—are set to capture meaningful market share in 2021. Early adopters are moving from trials to live deployments, but the timing of manufacturers’ revenue is difficult to predict, especially with new software. Initial use cases will be for mobile backhaul (cell site gateways) and backbone networks.”

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Technology analysts at the 650 Group, Chris Depuy and Alan Weckel, share the perspective that the disaggregated SP router market will see strong market adoption, saying that as Telco SPs become more cloud-like in both their design and procurement, a tremendous opportunity for the high-scale router market exists to experience a disaggregation transformation.

“We expect the market for Disaggregated Routing to grow substantially during the next several years as RFPs and plans turn into production traffic and revenue, replacing traditional routers.  Disaggregated routing and the consumption model associated with it will become a significant portion of the Router market over the next several years and create a significant opportunity for vendors that embrace the transformation.”

During 2020, leading carriers, such as AT&T, promoted the open disaggregated design, where  routing software was deployed independently of the underlying hardware. In Fierce Telecom, Analyst Lee Doyle predicts that “For 2021, software routing will mature into widespread use for a variety of use cases including network edge, core and use in the RAN.”

#2 Networks Return to form with Infrastructure Deployment the Priority

With infrastructure deployment leading the list, Total Telecom’s Harry Baldock says, “It should come as no surprise that building out infrastructure is going to be at the top of the operators’ to-do-list for 2021. The telecoms sector is being held up as a crucial industry for the economic recovery following the pandemic and accelerating the rollout of key infrastructure will be at the heart of this process.”

In Capacity Media, Telia Carrier’s Mattias Fridström shares that, “To meet the growing demand for high capacity, low latency connectivity, global optical network infrastructure has been on the receiving end of an extreme make-over in recent months. Quite unlike anything we’ve seen before, we believe that this will herald a new era of network innovation and interoperability.”

#3 The Telecoms Sector Will Return to Revenue Growth in 2021

Analysys Mason Research highlights some of the major trends that they expect to impact telecoms, saying. “Our latest forecasts predict that telecoms service revenue worldwide in 2020 will be USD43 billion less than it was in 2019 (a year-on-year decline of 2.7%). We expect that a third of this loss will be recouped in 2021 with growth of USD13 billion (up 1% on 2020), but global telecoms revenue will not exceed 2019 levels again until 2023.”

#4 The Open-model Network will have a Large Number of White Boxes

In looking at what operators are planning for new technology in 2021, Tom Nolle, President of CIMI Corporation, looked at how “One thing I find highly interesting (and unusual) in this year’s planning cycle is that two tech initiatives came up as not only tied for the top, but co-dependent.  The issues were 5G deployment and open-model networking.” He continued, explaining that “The open-model network of the future is going to have a large number of white boxes, and it’s likely that the biggest piece of that network—the aggregation and core IP stuff of today—will be white-box-based if it’s open.”

#5 Open will Drive Virtualized, Cloud-Native Solutions

Next year will be an interesting one in the telecom industry and the trends we will see, Chris Nicoll, Sr. Principal Analyst, Omdia, shared that “Off the Shelf (OTS) hardware options for virtualized and cloud solutions increase, adding acceleration and AI capabilities in addition to general purpose (HP2) processing. Increasingly customizable OTS platforms drive a balancing and rationalization of purpose-built, virtualized and cloud-native solutions.”

In Light Reading, Sue Marek reports that “As the telecom industry looks ahead to 2021, expect to hear a lot more on the benefits of moving to a cloud-native network architecture.” She explained that this model allows service providers to develop and deploy networks more quickly, making it possible for them to respond quickly to growth in mobile data traffic and add new services.

#6 Edge Computing Will Propel Growth

The intelligent edge is emerging with a revolutionary set of capabilities, already transforming some of the largest technology and communications companies on the planet. Analysts at Deloitte see edge computing and intelligence as a major driver for tech and telecom growth, ”telecoms’ ability to provide the combination of backhaul, 5G, Wi-Fi 6, and the intelligent edge could unleash stronger capabilities for managed connectivity, giving them a competitive advantage in delivering next-generation networks with greater quality of service.״

Forrester’s Vice President and Research Director, Glenn O’Donnell, talks about how this past year accelerated many technology trends. “The coming year will prove to be the real inflection for edge computing. Practical applications are finally emerging where this architecture can bring real benefits.”

#7 Automation efforts will gain momentum.

Expecting operators to accelerate network automation in 202, Analysys Mason’s Larry Goldman shares his many predictions for telecoms software and networks market.  He noted that “Operators’ automation efforts will gain momentum. Operators will accelerate network automation in 2021. We expect them to increase spending on automated orchestration of the core, edge and transport networks to manage complexity, enable service agility and achieve service scale, taking the market from USD4 billion in 2020 to USD20 billion in 2025.”

2021 Will be a Year of Realizing Network Disruption

With IP networks still transporting more traffic than ever and likely to be running at higher usage levels compared to before the Covid crisis, in 2021, service providers will be moving to cloud-based solutions to bring the benefits of cloud-native solutions to telecoms, opening up opportunities for other businesses that offer digital services over the networks.


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