The future of European broadband

Author : Jim Bridgwater, Marketing Manager, Gateway Segment at NXP Semiconductors

14 June 2018

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Gone are the days where linear TV dominated our video entertainment: thanks to modern broadband, video content creation is now shifting to a many-to-many model, and professional TV and movie content is increasingly consumed on demand...

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Indeed, the way we use the internet has radically changed over the last decade, and as a result of such a transition, global internet traffic is growing at an exponential rate. Currently running at over 100 exabytes per month, global IP traffic will reach 278 exabytes per month by 2021, according to Cisco. Video is responsible for more than 70% of internet traffic, but the proportion due to virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) is forecast in the same report to increase 20-fold between 2016 and 2021.

Meanwhile the home network has been transformed in recent years from a few wired connections into a mostly wireless network that relies on Wi-Fi to deliver content to consumers. Multiple devices connect to this network, including smartphones, TVs, thermostats, and so on. At the same time, there is a proliferation in the number of connected devices, set to reach 21 billion by 2021. Many of these new connected nodes are so-called ‘IoT’ devices, and while these may not generate much traffic, they represent a significant challenge in terms of security and quality of service.

All of this is driving exponential demand for bandwidth in the home. In the future, it is expected that new applications based on VR/AR technology will demand a further increase in data rates, as well as much lower latency than the streaming video applications – which today make up over 70% of internet traffic.

As a result, operators are looking for solutions to deliver gigabit access across their entire subscriber base.

The need for multiple access technologies

To provide gigabit data services to homes on a large scale, internet operators must leverage multiple access technologies, for the following reasons:

Geography Due to the wide range of conditions encountered by typical operators (cities, remote rural areas, mountainous regions, and so on), different solutions are needed to provide internet service in various regions. Cellular wireless may be the only economically viable solution in remote areas, whereas wired technologies are often best in cities, and fixed wireless access may fill in the gaps.

History With the advent of voice telephony in the mid-20th century, an infrastructure of twisted pair copper wiring was built up in many developed countries. Similarly, in some of those countries, coaxial wiring was provided to millions of homes in the late 20th century to support cable TV. Upgrading this wiring to fibre optics is expensive and time-consuming, so it pays to employ new technologies that can exploit higher data-rates from the existing infrastructure in those places. Other countries (such as China, which lacked existing infrastructure) decided to invest in new nationwide networks of fibre optic cables.

Physics As communication technology has developed, advanced techniques have been able to extract more and more bandwidth from the available spectrum. However, the fact remains that to deliver higher data rates, more MHz are required, which has led engineers to look at higher frequencies where more bandwidth is available. The corollary is that higher frequency radio waves are attenuated over longer distances, and this applies to wireless as well as wired transmission, as shown in the diagram.

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As a result, the latest gigabit access technologies, such as G.fast and 5G mmWave, require the aggregation point to be placed closer to the home, typically within a few hundred metres. Another interesting observation is that all of the high-speed communications formats, including 5G, G.fast and Wi-Fi, employ some form of Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (OFDM) to extract the highest speeds in real-world conditions.

Convergence of access technologies

Because the number of connected devices is growing at an exponential rate, the Internet of Things (IoT) is driving the need for secure network connectivity for a wide range of use cases and systems. People, machines, processes and information all demand network connections with different performance requirements – and of course consistent, reliable connectivity. We see rapid growth of various connectivity technologies happening in parallel with strong demand for well-managed and cost-effective solutions that leverage those technologies.

The continued development from 1G through GSM, WCDMA and LTE/5G wireless access techniques has driven continued evolution from the channel access method, moving from analogue through FDMA/TDMA (2G), CDMA (3G) and OFDM(A) (4G/5G).

Similarly, other wireless standards (802.11, Digital Audio/Video Broadcasting [DAB/DVB]) also use OFDM.

Time for a programmable architecture?

Due to cost and power constraints, different access systems have so far been implemented with hardwired devices that are specific to each one. Given the convergence of the channel modulation schemes, it should now be possible to develop a more universal, programmable architecture which would have some important benefits:

- Future-proofing: as standards change and implementations improve, software can simply be updated in the field rather than developing new designs; and

- Leveraged R&D investment: a common architecture can be retargeted for different access types, reducing the number of engineering resources required.

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One example of a flexible gateway processor is NXP’s new LA1575 programmable modem architecture, which offers a fully programmable wireless and wired solution from the physical layer to the application layer, all on a single device. It targets both infrastructure and customer premises equipment (CPE) markets, integrating baseband, PHY and networking functions that are historically implemented on separate chips.

Securing the home

As the data delivery hub of the home, the broadband gateway plays an important role in protecting other domestic devices from cyber-attack. First and foremost, the gateway must be secure from attack itself – which means that the gateway must boot from a trusted software image and perform actions, such as secure authentication to the cloud, and secure firmware updates. It must also manage and protect security keys throughout their lifecycle, including anti-rollback and key revocation functions.

The second important role that the gateway serves is to protect the home from unwanted or malicious access to and from other devices on the network. It is helpful to have a powerful gateway processor which offloads the normal packet processing functions to an accelerator, so that the CPU is freed up for these additional security functions:

Deep packet inspection: Examining the data inside incoming and outgoing data packets allows an application to determine if an access should be blocked for security reasons.

Device access classification: Devices on the home network can be classified and only acceptable access allowed. For example, an IP camera should have a very restricted set of IP addresses that it can reach.

Isolation of untrusted applications: Linux Containers can be used as a low-overhead method of isolating third party applications from critical system functions.

Conclusion

The number of connected internet devices, as well as the level of internet traffic, has been growing at an exponential rate, and new applications such as VR will ensure that gigabit access speeds to the home will soon be required. To deliver on this promise, operators will need to leverage multiple access technologies and employ advanced applications to maintain security. 


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