opinion


Could routers be facing extinction? Maybe…

WiFi router

Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Scott Sumner from network performance monitoring specialists Accedian considers the unthinkable – that network routers could be on the wane.

Routers have become the mainstays of every single IT network on the planet. The international router market is worth approximately $25billion and expected to grow at a CAGR of 15.8 per cent and reach $72 billion by 2022. Ok, this might not seem like an industry at deaths door, nor approaching extinction, but hear me out…

This overall financial market valuation is based on all types of routers – broadband routers, wireless routers, core routers, edge routers, inter-provider border routers, subscriber edge routers and others. Some of these categories have a rosier looking future than others. From a consumer perspective, the drive for better connectivity indoors and a constant thirst for more and more capacity means the likes of Belkin, D-Link and NetGear might rest easier than others (though they now have the Google OnHub to contend with).

I’m more concerned with debating the future of routers that sit at the edge of service provider and mobile networks — because they are becoming increasingly obsolete. Speaking candidly, routing has always been unnecessary at the service edge. Too often routers have been deployed despite there only being one ‘route’ for traffic to take. So why interrupt the flow of packets when operators are best letting them flow more freely? Why use a router for such a mundane task?

The reality is that there are literally millions of routers deployed across networks that are vastly underutilized and potentially impacting network performance. The overpopulation of routers is at the heart of their demise. Operators have become so used to deploying them that they’ve forgotten what they’re for. Too many are being used as simple demarcation devices for basic aggregation, or, even deployed as shadow routers when the primary router can’t handle basic network monitoring functions.

Using routers for such basic tasks inaccurately reflects an industry that can afford to do as it pleases. By taking these decisions, operators are suggesting they have vast resources at their disposal and can over-engineer network architecture at will. All of this somewhat flies in the face of industry commentary regarding about the growing commercial pressure operators face. These pressures give rise to many of today’s industry buzzwords. These include the need for operators to drive ‘flexibility’, ‘agility’ and ‘efficiency’ as means of ‘driving down cost’. Indeed the word ‘virtualisation’ is perhaps the golden, most used buzzword of all. Why? Because it is the means of achieving the aforementioned agility and flexibility at the lowest possible cost.

My prediction is that operators will continue to pursue the virtualisation or elimination of routers at the edge. Replacing routers with capable vCPE strategies drives out 90 per cent of the cost, reduces complexity and improves network performance. Operators will therefore be forced to scrutinise when to deploy physical routers and when not to. The use case will revolve around where they can be best and most fully-utilised – so in data centres, COs, aggregation points and other locations where they are needed to physically route traffic. Doesn’t sound like much of a pipedream, does it? In fact, it’s far easier as operators may realise.

The advent of virtualisation is heralding widespread changes in network architecture. It is set to spell the end of other longstanding, inefficient processes like vendor lock-in, over reliance on hardware and proprietary standards. It’s bound to impact the established order across all facets of the market, including those producing routers. Before employees at Cisco, Juniper and the other major vendors head for the jobcentre, I would say that it’s going to take a few years before total revolution is achieved.

 

Accedian Networks Scott Sumner Aug2015Scott has extensive experience in wireless, Carrier Ethernet and service assurance, with over 15 years of experience including roles as GM of Performant Networks, Director of Program Management & Engineering at MPB Communications, VP of Marketing at Minacom (Tektronix), and Aethera Networks (Positron / Marconi), Partnership and M&A Program Manager at EXFO, as well as project and engineering management roles at PerkinElmer Optoelectronics (EG&G). Scott has participated in numerous acquisitions and industry partnerships, and has authored numerous patents and conference papers on telecommunications technology.


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