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Supporting public and private organizations with agile, resilient, secure and scalable broadband connectivity solutions is the primary responsibility of network service providers and sits squarely on any digital transformation agenda.

The management of volumes of data transfer in networks is crucial for achieving desired operational and demand-fulfillment objectives. This is especially true in the context of rapid 5G deployment and cloud and IoT adoption across industrial sectors. As such, information and communication technology (ICT) standards play a vital role in creating a more sustainable and profitable future by facilitating the interoperability of relatively new technologies such as Optical Transport Network (OTN) to benefit the whole ecosystem. OTN is seen as the ideal technology between next-generation IP and legacy time division multiplexing (TDM) networks as it acts as a converged transport layer for newer, packet-based and existing TDM services.

Since its inception in the 1960s, the ability of fiber communication to process immense bandwidth capacity has been welcomed by the telecom industry with open arms. Today, with the soaring demand for copious and continuous data transfers, the time to fully tap into its possibilities has arrived.

ITU-T defines an OTN as a set of optical network elements (ONE) connected by optical fiber links, able to provide the functionality of transport, multiplexing, switching, management, supervision and survivability of optical channels carrying client signals. ITU-T recommendation G.709 is commonly called OTN.

Trends in OTNs

Optimized OTN interfaces make it much easier for carriers to continue to base their radio access networks on OTN technology.

Fiber optic technology is at the heart of next-generation passive optical network (PON) technologies. Taking a single optical fiber, PON divides the fiber bandwidth with the help of fiber optic splitters. By dividing this bandwidth, PON can utilize multiple wavelengths for data. This helps service providers develop converged networks, with multiple services coexisting on the same fiber network infrastructure for upstream and downstream traffic. This enhances the network capabilities while minimizing costly system upgrade processes. Enterprises and consumers both require good broadband network speed. PON can easily handle speeds of 1 Gbps, and in the case of shared fiber, this can rise to 2 Gbps, which is great for updating a database or accessing cloud services. Further,PON provides various benefits for network operations.

Scalability: A standard fiber-optic network typically finds a single fiber going from the central provider directly to a single customer. However, the design of PON allows a single fiber to be split among 32 different connections, allowing businesses to expand their IT capabilities supported by the PON structure.

Services Options: The multiple wavelengths available on a single fiber offer the advantage of more internet services. Phone services and video conferencing software can use the same line to deliver a comprehensive telecommunication package.

Reliability: The fiber optic cables of PON are light and flexible and thus do not rely on electricity, which means that they cannot be adversely affected by static or electrical signals. Therefore, the connection is more secure than traditional copper wire solutions.

Cost-efficiency: Since single optical fibers can connect numerous users, materials and infrastructure costs are drastically reduced compared to exclusive fiber connections between consumers and providers.

GPON is a PON system that can carry gigabit bandwidth through a system that allows high bandwidth and reduces jitters that are common in copper cable backbone systems. Moreover, the distribution reach of GPON and PON is much longer, depending on the manufacturer — within the ballpark of 12.5 miles. GPON is also able to support multiple carrier services, such as video, voice and data, enabling it to be a versatile solution in a single design.

Synchronous Optical Networking (SONET) and Synchronous Digital Hierarchy (SDH) are standardized protocols for transferring multiple digital bit streams synchronously over optical fiber using lasers or highly coherent light from light-emitting diodes (LEDs). The advantages of SONET and SDH include data transmission over large distances, low electromagnetic interference, high data rates and large bandwidth. Both technologies provide faster and cheaper network interconnections than do traditional Plesiochronous Digital Hierarchy (PDH) equipment.

Wavelength division multiplexing passive optical network (WDM-PON) is a fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) solution characterized by the use of a PON structure plus the use of multiple wavelengths that can be dedicated for each user or shared among a group of users.

Leading players such as Cisco, Huawei, Nokia, ADTRAN and Ericsson are making continuous developments in a plethora of OTN solutions.

Key Growth Strategies

Connectivity challenges are high, with over 2.9 billion people still offline, some 96% of whom live in developing countries, as per data from the ITU. People in urban areas are twice as likely to use the Internet compared to their rural counterparts. Still, 5G is forecast to increase progressively and will contribute to the growth of the mobile broadband subscriber base, which is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6% in MEA. Moreover, the outlook for the UAE economy is very positive, with the IMF predicting GDP growth of 3.5% in 2023, following a strong rebound in 2022 of 7.4% as COVID-19 restrictions were lifted. For mobile network operators, this return to growth is driving increased competition as operators seek to demonstrate network leadership and turn prepaid users to postpaid, while also focusing on driving enhanced customer experiences and offering new digital services. As such, both new hardware and software infrastructure will also be needed to support the digital economy. Further still, new industry data has found that almost nine in 10 businesses in the UK are struggling with their finances and productivity as a result of their outdated systems. Experts are urging companies to update their technologies at the earliest or risk the possibility of stunted growth and profits and fewer customers.

Access network technologies addressed by ITU’s Study Group 15 (SG15) include passive optical networks, point-to-point optical and copper-based digital subscriber line technologies, including ADSL, VDSL, HDSL, SHDSL, Gfast and MGfast. These access technologies find application in their traditional uses as well as in backhaul and fronthaul networks for emerging services such as broadband wireless and data center interconnect. Home networking technologies include wired broadband, wired narrowband, wireless narrowband and free-space optical transmission (visible light communication). Both access and home networking for smart-grid applications are supported.

Market Competition

The global optical transport network market was valued at US$18.38 billion in 2021 and is anticipated to witness a CAGR of 10.2% from 2022 to 2030.

In recent developments, experts are exploring the advancement of the global metaverse industry and its integration into real-world business, including its uptake and adoption in the Middle Eastern markets, including the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Maximizing metaverse adoption in terms of overall metaverse development will require the integration of principal sectors such as banking, education, healthcare, industry, entertainment and tourism, as well as ubiquitous connectivity, to reap the benefits of the metaverse market.

Altogether, OTN technology is poised to be instrumental in facilitating seamless, fast and efficient data transport systems that can support the inevitable and growing high-bandwidth demands of the digital economy.

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