The phrase next-generation no longer means what it used to for networking. Wikipedia defines a next-generation network as one where communications of all kinds are transported by IP packets.
That’s not exactly innovative. IP-based data transfers have been the norm for voice, video, and other media for years.
The true networking innovations are the ones we call next-next generation technologies. They’re the developing solutions that will help the network MSPs of tomorrow achieve feats that today seem like fiction.
Here’s a look at seven such projects.
- Optical wireless networks
Wireless networks based on radio wave have been widespread since the 2000s. But they suffer from two major drawbacks.
One is that data transfer speeds on the RF spectrum are limited—which is part of the reason why sending data over a wireless Internet connection is almost always slower than using an Ethernet link.
The second is that the RF spectrum has a limited scope, which leads to interference that can disrupt wireless connectivity.
A better solution is in the works at the University of Nevada-Reno: optical wireless.
As the term implies, optical wireless technology makes it possible to use optical light waves, rather than radio waves, as the backbone for wireless communications.
Using optics, information can be transmitted more quickly and with a lower risk of interference, which means optical wireless networks offer drastic performance improvements over traditional Wi-Fi.
They’ll empower MSPs with faster, more reliable ways of delivering connectivity without requiring customers to be plugged in.
Keeping phones, tablets, laptops, and other battery-powered devices charged is tedious. Right now, the only practical way to do it is to plug in a device when needed.
Microsoft is researching a solution to this challenge called AutoCharge. AutoCharge charges devices automatically using light beams.
You don’t even need to remember to place a device in a certain area. Cameras can track it and automatically redirect the light beam!
The technology stands to make life easier, not only for smartphone users, but also for the MSPs who help manage battery-powered devices.
- Airborne networks and temporospatial SDN
Most networks today—even those that deliver in-flight Internet on airplanes—are created using fixed transmission stations based on the ground.
These networks often lack coverage in areas that are far from stations. They also suffer from a single-point-of-failure problem because if a station in a given area goes down, everyone in that area loses connectivity.
Airborne networking offers a solution to this challenge. By basing wireless stations on aircraft and beaming connections down to earth, airborne networks can deliver much more thorough coverage without single points of failure.
The technology for airborne networks already exists, but researchers at Google are working to make airborne networks faster and more reliable using temporospatial SDN. The technology allows airborne networks to anticipate changes in the location of network stations as they move around the skies.
As mobile devices make up an ever-increasing share of Internet traffic, cellular networks are reaching their limits.
Transferring mobile data over conventional cellular infrastructure requires relatively high amounts of energy. Plus, the radio spectrum over which mobile data is transmitted is narrow. That limits the number of devices that can exchange mobile data at a single time.
MAMMOET, a European Commission-sponsored project, aims to enable much more efficient mobile data transfers.
Instead of cell towers with one antenna each, stations on the MAMMOET network will feature hundreds of antennas. Researchers say the result will be much less interference on mobile networks, as well as drastically reduced energy requirements.
MAMMOET promises to be especially important for helping MSPs and their clients to build larger, less expensive networks of mobile devices. These include traditional devices like smartphones and tablets, but also low-power Internet of Things (IoT) sensors and switches.
Another approach to achieving universal connectivity is being developed by the LoRa Alliance.
LoRa’s networking specification, LoRaWAN, is a blueprint for allowing devices with limited power capacity to connect to wireless networks covering a wide geographic area.
LoRaWAN and similar long-range wireless solutions, such as the one from Sigfox, are important for overcoming the current limitations on building networks for “dumb” IoT devices. These devices lack the hardware capacity or energy resources to connect to traditional wireless networks.
- Socially aware IoT
As the potential of IoT networks grows, so does the need to ensure the IoT is being used effectively. A research project named SOCIOTAL is working on this by encouraging the development of what it calls “a socially aware citizen-centric Internet of Things.”
SOCIOTAL is not creating a specific technology. Instead, its engineering governance and communication frameworks are designed to help IoT networks remain open and interoperable.
An open IoT stands to benefit MSPs, who will be better able to leverage IoT devices and connectivity using open standards.
On modern networks, data is broken into small pieces called packets. When a device sends a packet onto the network, a network router has to decide when to forward the packet, as well as which route the packet should take between different nodes to reach its endpoint.
This process can introduce delays and inefficiencies if the router has too many packets to process, a node unexpectedly goes down, or other problems occur.
Fastpass, a project developed by researchers at MIT, aims to make packet routing more efficient.
Fastpass works by using devices the researchers call central arbiters to make decisions about packet routing. By outsourcing routing decisions to central arbiters and making sure backup arbiters are available in case one goes down, Fastpass allows networks to avoid the delays caused by router crashes or overloads.
Fastpass stands to help MSPs provide faster, more reliable managed networking services.