Written by Eric Thompson
For more than a year, the challenges imposed on everyday life by the coronavirus pandemic have been disruptive and difficult in the extreme. As we look ahead with hope toward the end of this difficult period, we anticipate a return to something approaching normal, pre-coronavirus life. However, it is just as important to take stock of the many aspects of our lives that may have been forever changed by the events of 2020.
One of those aspects is a field that for more than a decade has been the central focus of my professional life: telecom fiberoptic engineering, design and consulting. While fiberoptic telecom has been a major and growing force in communication for decades, the advent of the coronavirus pandemic placed in sharp relief just how mission critical fiberoptic communication is in our personal and professional lives.
Virtually overnight, the pandemic rewrote the book on the importance of a steady stream of data traffic flowing through the global network. Before lockdowns and the surge in remote working, the lion’s share of daytime data flow originated in large office buildings and commercial venues with high-bandwidth connections able to handle the traffic. Suddenly, an explosion of traffic from individual residences, as people began working from home and ramped up shopping online, video streaming, connecting with meeting apps and attending school online, hit existing fiberoptic networks like a mega-tsunami.
Predictably, this placed an unprecedented amount of stress on global data networks, cloud infrastructures and the ISPs and connection points serving public and private sector users worldwide. This often resulted in slowdowns in data flow, impacting internet connections and telecommunications generally.
Will the increased traffic flow return to something like pre-pandemic norms after COVID-19 has been vanquished? Not likely. Consider that countless numbers of employees new to remote working before COVID-19 have become acclimated to what for many of them may be the future of work. Many companies have discovered that they can function just as efficiently with a preponderance of remote workers as they did with all their people busily keyboarding away in brick, mortar and glass office buildings and corporate campuses, kept comfortable thanks to substantial utility bills, maintenance and related expenses. Twitter, for example, has announced that their post-pandemic model will allow employees to work from home essentially forever.
While the challenge of transitioning to a predominantly home or remote workforce has been an adjustment for many corporations, once in place the benefits become clear. A home workforce model not only saves a company money in terms of its physical facilities, but also allows that company to onboard and integrate new employees from anywhere in the world, all of which demands the best possible internet connection and performance.
Small wonder that AT&T, Comcast and other major providers are being deluged by demands for better, faster and higher-quality home internet capabilities to support the exponential growth and importance of technology in our daily lives. In the telecommunications arena, the coronavirus pandemic did more than impact our world, it has accelerated trends that will change it forever.
In the new, post-pandemic telecommunications environment, all players are feverishly expanding fiberoptic networks to accommodate the certainty of massive growth in demand for expanding broadband, 5G and other innovations. Data traffic will continue to increase at the same time new and innovative applications demand more bandwidth to deliver value. Without extensive and rapid expansion of fiberoptic capacity, the traffic anticipated in the medium term would stress existing capacity to the breaking point.
One manifestation of the new reality is a rapid and massive expansion of the “dark fiber” side of fiberoptic deployment globally. Dark fiber is the industry term for fiberoptic cable being deployed but not currently “lit” by active data traffic. Dark fiber represents reserve capacity laid in anticipation of the exploding needs of next week, next month and next year … and it’s happening at breakneck speed. Both Facebook and Google are well along in the process of building their own fiberoptic networks across the country, and even under the sea, to ensure that their data centers will be assured the capacity they will require as user traffic grows. Japan is actively pursuing plans to install a comprehensive, national fiberoptic network with a March 2022 target for completion. The network will answer urgent online educational, medical and related needs in underserved regions as revealed by the pandemic.
A January 26, 2021, article in Forbes Magazine bluntly stated that there is no going back. The pace of change in the telecommunications infrastructure accelerated by the pandemic and fueled by increasing customer expectations is here to stay. The demand for greater bandwidth will give new impetus to the widespread development of 5G networks around the world, and it’s easy to see why. The fastest of 5G networks are estimated to be at least 10 times faster than current 4G LTE networks. A world more dependent upon increasing speed and bandwidth will fuel growing demands for upgrades and perpetually expanding capabilities.
In the near term, keeping up with insatiable demand for more and faster network capabilities will continue to stress the fiberoptics industry. But, as in all things, crisis drives innovation. New technological solutions and increasing investment in global fiberoptic deployment are bringing the future closer everyday. And as designers, engineers and installers of fiberoptic solutions, the WT Group is ready and able to work with clients every step of the way as we shine new light on our fiberoptic tomorrow.