Robots in Telecom?

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The Robotics/Automation Revolution Is Here

Unlike human employees, robots don’t have set work hours. They are available and working 24/7, around the clock.

The concept of disruption has now become synonymous with the telecommunications and technology industries. Consider this: the amount of technological advancement that occurred in the year 2000 occurred every 1 hour and 6 minutes in 2013, and will occur every 30 seconds in 2020.1

Whether it’s consumer electronics or network technologies, new innovations can make a device obsolete in the blink of an eye, as something bigger, better, more efficient, or otherwise, makes its way into the marketplace.

There are a multitude of technologies that are indeed disrupting the networks designed to support them. Below are market projections for some of the latest technological trends in the telecom marketplace.

Internet of Things (IoT) Gartner estimated that by the year 2020, there will be approximately 20.4 billion IoT units installed globally. The current tally of IoT devices in use is roughly 8.4 billion.2

Cloud Computing No one really knows how big the cloud is, but it’s estimated to be one Exabyte. One Exabyte is equal to about 4.2 million MacBook pros. It’s thought that over the next 5 years, the Cloud is going to grow 4 times the size it is right now.3

Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) According to Michael Howard, Senior Research Director, Carrier Networks, at IHS Markit, the NFV market is expected to grow at a robust compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 42% — from $2.7 billion in 2015 to $15.5 billion in 2020.4

Software-Defined Networking (SDN) A Research and Markets report predicted that the market for SDN will expand at a CAGR of 53.13% from 2016 to 2021, from $3.27 billion to $42.157 billion in 2021.5

5G Recent reports expect the 5G market to grow at a CAGR of 70%, accounting for $28 billion in annual spending by 2025.6

Consider this: the amount of technological advancement that occurred in the year 2000 occurred every 1 hour and 6 minutes in 2013, and will occur every 30 seconds in 2020.

Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) The fiber optics market is expected to grow to reach $5 billion by 2021 at a CAGR of 9.8%. Demand for increased bandwidth to homes is at an all-time high, with multiple connected, streaming, Over-The-Top (OTT) and gaming devices per household that rely on quality Internet connectivity.7

A major surge in network dependence is on the way, and there isn’t much time to make adjustments to account for the excess load that will be placed on telecom infrastructure. The question is, how can network engineers adapt to the massive influx of these highly data-dependent technologies? A two-pronged approach might be the best way to meet the forecasted demand.

Automation, Automation, Automation

Over the past decade, many network functions have become virtualized, which was a solid step in the right direction. The next crucial move to be made is implementing automation technologies to “manage” network functions, which would significantly boost network efficiencies as the network functions could happen in real time without reliance on human action to be carried out.

The top benefits associated with automated telecommunications processes are:

  • Reduced operation costs. Companies that use automation technology are cutting massive hours of operation time. Think about it: you program your software to perform functions and allow it to do so, eliminating the need to pay employees to carry out those functions at a less-efficient rate.
  • Reallocation of highly skilled employee resources. With automation in place, your network engineers are no longer glued to the execution of network processes. While automation processes still need to be monitored, these highly skilled employees can re-focus their time and energy on innovation development, rather than on process execution.
  • Improved security. If a breach of some kind occurs, you could automatically detect and resolve the issue due to automated security protocols. If the same security breach had to be mitigated with manpower, it could take hours to identify and resolve.
  • Enhanced Customer Retention. Automation leads to increased uptime. If uptime is achieved, customers are happy and continue to purchase your products/services. In order to get the most out of automation initiatives, processes must be paired with highly efficient machinery for execution. In other words, robotics is the way forward.
The Robotics Revolution

At this point, the use of highly efficient robots designed to streamline repetitive processes has not been widely implemented within the telecom sector. This rather untapped technology could help offset the major increase in network demand on the horizon by supporting automation initiatives.

The global optical transceiver market, just one subset of the larger telecom industry, is forecasted to grow from 4.6 billion in 2015 to just north of 40 billion by 2022.8

With that kind of growth, it’s crucial to employ a scalable approach that focuses heavily on a combination of automated processes and highly efficient robots to guarantee top reliability of products and services for customers.

Four benefits associated with robotic technology are:

  • Reliability. No matter how highly-regarded an employee is, human error is always a possibility. Even with the most stringent processes in place, leaving tasks to manual execution opens the door for mistakes to be made, especially when high-volume orders come into play. Robots are programmed to enact “taught positions” and processes, allowing for the replication of the highest quality products with a vastly reduced potential for error.
  • Increased Productivity. Unlike human employees, robots don’t have set work hours. They are available and working 24/7, around the clock. If a customer places an order in the early hours of the morning, the robots are able to prep the product for delivery so it can go out that morning, when the courier arrives to process outbound deliveries.
  • Availability of Product. Robots significantly improve efficiency, and as a result, customers are able to receive orders for the products they need in a streamlined fashion. In some cases, cutting typical turnaround times from months/weeks to a matter of days, which can make all the difference when dealing with mission-critical infrastructure.
  • Scalability. Those using robots and automation processes give themselves a significant advantage when it comes to scalability. Manual efforts are steadily becoming outdated, as robot technology pushes the envelope in terms of technological efficiency. The ability to scale using manual processes, without the use of robot technology, will be a challenge once markets grow to current projections.
Robotics in Action

Integra Optics, a global provider of carrier grade fiber optic components, is one of the first optical transceiver providers that has completely embraced the use of robots in the manufacturing, coding, and testing of its network component products. Why? Because even Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) aren’t able to test every single optic, or code transceivers for particular network environments. The use of robots allows for the coding of transceivers specifically for the environment they will be used in, making the components extremely reliable.

Conclusion

Once these disruptive technologies are in full swing, networks are going to need the most reliable network components to ensure uptime. Automation and robotics can now pave the way for the production of reliable network components in a way that is truly capable of scaling with the industry as more and more technologies are introduced in the marketplace.

It is no small task to develop and implement automation/robotics, but with the onslaught of new technologies on the horizon, network engineers would be wise to start that process now, or develop partnerships with organizations that have the technology in place to meet scalability demands. Otherwise, they may be looking from the outside in, as their robotics-friendly counterparts increase efficiency while enjoying massive revenue increases.

Endnotes
1. The Emerging Future (TEF) – Disruptive Technology Riding the Emerging Wave of the Future
http://theemergingfuture.com/disruptive-technology.htm

2. Gartner – Gartner Says 8.4 Billion Connected “Things” Will Be in Use in 2017, Up 31 Percent From 2016
http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/3598917

3. Integra Optics – What’s Up? Availability and Inventory Control
https://integraoptics.com/whats-availability-inventory-control/

4. IHS Markit – Network Functions Virtualization Market Worth Over $15 Billion by 2020, Says IHS Markit
http://news.ihsmarkit.com/press-release/technology/network-functions-virtualization-market-worth-over-15-billion-2020-says-ihs

5. Research and Markets – Software Defined Networking (SDN) Market – Forecasts from 2016 to 2021
https://www.researchandmarkets.com/research/kfxsjl/software_defined

6. MarketWatch – 5G Network Infrastructure Market to Grow at a CAGR of 70%, Accounting for $28 Billion in Annual Spending by 2025
http://www.marketwatch.com/story/5g-network-infrastructure-market-to-grow-at-a-cagr-of-70-accounting-for-28-billion-in-annual-spending-by-2025-2017-03-20-9203250

7. Research and Markets – Fiber Optics Market by Cable – Global Forecast to 2021
https://www.researchandmarkets.com/research/7ghm5v/fiber_optics

8. Radiant Insights – Optical Transceivers: Market Shares, Strategies, and Forecasts, Worldwide, 2016 to 2022
https://www.radiantinsights.com/research/optical-transceivers-market

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About Author

David Prescott is CEO/CTO, Integra Optics. For more information, please visit https://integraoptics.com.

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