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It’s my network and I’ll binge watch if I want to

Jan 30, 20153 mins
Cloud ComputingSDNVirtualization

As the enabler of today's app-centric, cloud and content-driven world, the network is evolving and network providers are taking steps to close the gap between what the consumer wants and what the network can deliver.

In my first blog post I discussed the gap that exists between what consumers want and what the network can feasibly provide – what I referred to as the “agility gap.” In just the four months since that post, we have seen a variety of new examples of the acceleration in technology advances for the consumer and end user, while the network chugs along trying to keep up.

The most intriguing of these was Sony’s unveiling of PlayStation Now at CES 2015, a cloud-based gaming subscription service that gives players unlimited streaming access to more than 100 games.

Essentially, PlayStation has made an entire library of games available through a PlayStation Now app that can be accessed not only from the new PlayStation 4, but from a variety of Sony TVs, Blu-ray players, and other Internet-connected devices.

This added convenience is sure to attract new gamers to the PlayStation platform, and there’s no doubt that it will feed the binge-watcher or binge-gamer’s appetite.

But the extra burden placed on the network could be substantial. And because today’s broadband connections generally can’t provide the bandwidth needed to stream a full-HD gaming experience with zero latency, game graphics are generally sacrificed to make sure controls react to a user’s input instantly – yet another perfect example of the Agility Gap. Imagine being able to take your broadband connection into “gaming mode” when you decided to sit down and play a game of Madden with your friend living on the West Coast.

This is just the latest example of a vendor eschewing hardware in favor of a cloud delivery platform, but it is illustrative of a trend that will become more and more common as the years roll on. In fact, recent Ciena-sponsored ACG Research found that household bandwidth requirements are, on average, set to increase 31% annually over the next five years, from 2.9 Mbps in 2014 to 7.3 Mbps in 2018 during peak hours (disclosure: I am an employee of Ciena). And with that increase in bandwidth comes higher expectations that the user experience is seamless and that the service in use “just works” regardless of the quality of the network required to deliver it.

The good news for us is that service providers are doing their part to get the network up to speed, so to speak, and are seeking to address consumer desires for more content delivered on demand. Take AT&T for example. The company has taken steps toward changing its model of network delivery by leveraging Software-Defined Networking (SDN). The company recently announced an on-demand service for enterprises to order, add, or change services on their own.

This is the dawn of the network, at last, beginning to “close the agility gap.” It’s the solution that, among other things, will enable the ability to match network consumption to evolving needs in real time. This aligns well with the enterprise shift to on-demand IT and cloud, and enterprises will increasingly seek the improvements in utility, flexibility, and economy that on-demand services provide. Both SDN and Network Functions Virtualization will power these services and deliver network function capability and connectivity and bandwidth variability.

So while the gap has formed, the steps are in place to ensure it closes. Eventually, as the network evolves and service providers change their delivery methods, the gap between what the consumer wants and what the network can deliver will simply fade away, and consumers will be able to binge watch House of Cards and play cloud-based PS3 games without a hitch. After all, it’s what they expect.


With more than 20 years of telecom experience, Mr. Alexander is currently serving as Ciena’s Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer. Mr. Alexander has held a number of positions since joining the Company in 1994, including General Manager of Ciena's Transport & Switching and Data Networking business units, Vice President of Transport Products and Director of Lightwave Systems.

From 1982 until joining Ciena, Mr. Alexander was employed at MIT Lincoln Laboratory, where he last held the position of Assistant Leader of the Optical Communications Technology Group. Mr. Alexander is an IEEE Fellow and was the recipient of the IEEE Communications Society Industrial Innovation Award in 2012. He is currently an Associate Editor for the IEEE / OSA Journal of Optical Communications and Networking. He has served as a member of the Federal Communications Commission Technological Advisory Council, as an Associate Editor for the Journal of Lightwave Technology, as a member of the IEEE / LEOS Board of Governors, and was a General Chair of the conference on Optical Fiber Communication (OFC) in 1997.

Mr. Alexander received both his B.S. and M.S. degrees in electrical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology. He has been granted 18 patents and has authored a text on Optical Communication Receiver Design as well as numerous conference and journal articles.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of Steve Alexander and do not necessarily represent those of IDG Communications, Inc., its parent, subsidiary or affiliated companies.