Communications Should Work Like Roads
An important strategic question for Cities, Counties, and States to consider is the significance of communications infrastructure to their future vitality and livability. This question is particularly important as cities develop and refine Smart City and Internet of Things initiatives. Is it possible that communications infrastructure will be as important to cities during the next 100 years as roads have been over the past 100 years?
The dominant communications model in the United States today is one where the physical infrastructure and services are intertwined and controlled by incumbent service providers. The result of this approach is that the company who controls the infrastructure also controls the services. This leads to a limited number of services, a lack of competition, inflated prices, scarce bandwidth, and throttled innovation in services. The current practice of building separate communication systems for each carrier is analogous to building one set of physical roads for UPS and another set of roads for FedEx (See Figure 1). This is a flawed model. An alternative approach is for municipalities to own and control communications infrastructure and make it open to competition and innovation by any service provider – the same way roads are available for use by the public.
As municipalities consider the importance of communications infrastructure and services to the future vitality of the community, it is critical to carefully consider the implications of having incumbent carriers control both the communications infrastructure and services. As cities plan for the digital future, the same model that is used for roadways should be adopted for communications.
Open Access is the name for a communications model where any service provider is allowed to deliver services over open infrastructure. This approach has been implemented in both Europe and the United States. The value of the Open Access model is that it gives consumers choice and it can bring competition to the market for services; two attributes that are painfully missing in many communities.
Open Access as a Marketplace
The networks which have successfully implemented Open Access models to date have primarily enabled multiple options for Internet Service Providers (ISP’s). The ideal Open Access implementation is one which creates an open marketplace with many services and is not just a marketplace for ISP’s. Ebay and Amazon are examples of digital marketplaces where buyers and sellers can dynamically interact to exchange a wide variety of goods and services. Traditional open access networks lack sufficient automation and software control to enable a dynamic marketplace.
In a robust digital marketplace, service providers should be able to self-provision their services onto the network without significant time or expense. Subscribers should find competitive options for the things they want to buy and marketplace provisioning portals should be web-based and easy to navigate. Services should be available on-demand with self-service automation and pay-as-you-go pricing models. A true digital marketplace will grant anytime-anywhere-any device access. The internet is the best example of a dynamic, worldwide marketplace for goods, services, ideas, and information.
One of the remarkable things about the internet is that it is a global network made up of thousands of independent, interconnected networks which have agreed to adopt specific communication standards and protocols. As Figure 2 illustrates below, the internet essentially provides transport to and from cloud-based services. Because of the internet, consumers are now accustomed to accessing email, banking, music, movies, shopping, and social media from a cloud.
The internet became what it is in large part because it enabled a marketplace that is open to innovation, open to competition, provides open access to an unlimited number of goods and services and it is easy to use. Given the internet’s success, why is another marketplace needed?
Security and Privacy for Smart Cities and the Internet of Things (IoT)
The current Internet marketplace cannot provide the level of security, privacy, and reliability needed for many services and applications that are emerging with Smart Cities and the Internet of Things. To solve this, a next generation marketplace is needed for Smart City, Smart Home, Public Safety, Emergency Communications, Telemedicine, Aging-in-Place applications and many other Internet-of-Things devices. Additionally, many Smart City and IoT services require high bandwidth, local resilience and low latency.
Municipalities are the ideal infrastructure provider for this next generation IoT marketplace because municipalities have a completely different set of incentives than incumbent operators. Chief among these incentives is that Cities will keep these networks open to any innovation or service that can run in this marketplace and will contribute to a vibrant community.
How will this next generation marketplace be different from the Public Internet? The privacy, security, and reliability attributes already cited are an important distinction. Another important distinction is that the transport to these cloud-based IoT services will happen across virtualized private networks. Network virtualization creates logical (software based) networks capable of supporting a large number of independent virtual slices or virtual environments using a single network infrastructure resource. To understand this, imagine a single strand of fiber optic cable that is ‘sliced’ end to end, creating any number of virtual fiber strands. Visualizing these virtual strands, a series of isolated virtual channels or slices can be seen, each capable of providing an independent network service over a separate virtual fiber inside a single physical fiber optic strand (see Figure 3).
The alternative to using network virtualization technologies is to provision purpose-built or independent physical networks for each independent service. That is what happens today for things like traffic management, public safety, and closed circuit camera networks.
EntryPoint’s Intel based Virtual Broadband Gateway (VBG) sits at the premise and enables multiple virtual networks, each supporting a different service, logically isolated from each other. The premise hosting these VBG’s may be the side of a house, a server room in a commercial business, a utility pole, or a rooftop. The design of the VBG assumes that multiple virtual routers and switches are operating on this device at the premise. By virtualizing at the premise device, it is possible; even easy, for application developers (or service providers) to have their own logical network without the overhead of building out their own service specific physical network. The VBG provides this logical isolation to allow each stakeholder a network view and control over their own network slice. The VBG also accommodates separating network transport from services. Without this separation, it is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve the objectives around innovation, choice and competition between service providers.
This next generation digital marketplace is a much more affordable, manageable, and viable network management solution for Cities, Counties, Rural Co-Ops, and States who are building robust fiber optic infrastructure for their communities. With this technology, these public infrastructure owners can leverage the investment for the community’s benefit by deploying any number of desired services in a Dynamic Open Access model to provide this secure, private and reliable next generation marketplace. EntryPoint’s FlowOps platform and its Intel powered Virtual Broadband Gateway, make this new Digital Marketplace possible.
Chief Technolgy Strategist, EntryPoint
Technology Director, City of Ammon