Our expectations from digital connectivity have been redefined in the last one year. From conducting financial transactions online to remote factory management, the digital way of life is becoming pervasive.

With the growing dependency on digital tools, there is a strong need to rethink our network strategy to expand coverage, benefit from cloud and connectivity and build a future-oriented network. New-age use of broadband for remote education, smart factory, remote healthcare demands a change in the way networks are built. The communications service providers (CSPs) need to adopt innovative network strategies to provide reliable and ubiquitous broadband coverage to power the next wave of growth and innovation. 

Industry leaders gathered recently at Ultra-Broadband Forum 2021, organized by UN Broadband Commission and Huawei, held in Dubai to discuss building future-proof networks sustainably. 

"Connectivity reshaped how we live and work when the pandemic hit in 2020. Connectivity is more than an expansion of functions, it is an emotional bond. As long as there is connectivity, there is a bond. Where there is connectivity, there is innovation. It presents us with unlimited possibilities. I believe in our shared mission to create a connected world," says Ryan Ding, Executive Director of the Board, President of the Carrier BG, Huawei, in his inaugural address. 

Leveraging the C.A.F Model 
The C.A.F (Coverage, Architecture and Fusion) model is emerging as a way for the telcos to maximize the value of connectivity and achieve new growth. "The broader coverage the network has, the more number of connections it will grow. Further, fusion between connectivity and cloud is important to speed up digitalization. The sooner we achieve network and cloud convergence, the better competitive advantage telco operators will have. Lastly, network architecture is the cornerstone for current and future business opportunities. A future-oriented network should be more elastic, more efficient and greener," says Peng Song, President of Global Carrier Marketing and Solution Sales, Huawei. 
Where coverage is concerned, the usage at homes and enterprises have undergone a massive change. The trends of remote learning and remote working means that homes demand ultra-highspeed and low-latency networks. Further, the enterprises have accelerated the digital transformation and are using the latest digital tools and applications to leverage automation to enhance productivity and operational efficiency. It then becomes critical to extend coverage to as many people and areas as possible to enable them to benefit from broadband. 
"Nearly 87% of homes still have no fiber access. The high deployment cost and a long time to market are still challenges to extend connectivity to every home with fiber," says Peng. 
However, innovative solutions are making it possible for the service providers to cost-effectively bring high-speed connectivity to yet-to-be-connected areas. For instance, Huawei’s AirPON solution reuses existing sites and fiber resources, making construction 90% faster. Rostelecom from Russia used this solution to provide network coverage in the Arctic Circle, connecting 100 households in just five days. Another example is Huawei’s Digital QuickODN solution which helped du, an operator from UAE, bring down the time to market from two months to one week and reduce CAPEX by 30%.
To extend connectivity to every room and increase the value of home broadband, operators can provide FTTR (Fiber to the Room) and scenario-based broadband services, further extending fiber to rooms for home networking. China Telecom offers a broadband package for live streamers in Yunnan province, and the ARPU is higher than ordinary plans. 
In enterprise scenarios, Peng emphasized that the top priority for leased lines is to provide differentiated offerings to keep competitive. “More importantly, connectivity needs to be extended inside enterprises from CT to OT. This will result in enhanced production efficiency and user experience,” he said. 
Addressing The Growing Enterprise Requirements 
Coming to the fusion part of the C.A.F model, the service providers need to build cloud-network fusion for new network capabilities. 
The networks should be able to address the three key requirements of the enterprises: access to the cloud with rapid provisioning, access to multiple clouds and the ability to address the unique requirements of different sectors. “Connectivity is driving gains in enterprise productivity. In the digital age, people, things, capital and regulations are fully connected. Enterprises much change their mindset to realize that increasing efficiency is more important than ever,” says Ryan Ding. 
"A cloud-network converged platform is needed for the users and industrial partners to easily invoke cloud and network capabilities. Operators can integrate network, cloud and applications in one-stop services for enterprises. The operator in China has launched a one-stop computing service platform. It provides SMEs with network, cloud, and SaaS services. This platform already hosts more than 50 SaaS service providers and offers cloud office, cloud rendering, security applications, etc. The operator takes a 20% cut of all revenue from SaaS application sales on this platform," explains Peng. 
Reimagining Network Architecture
All this is possible only if service providers reimagine the third part of C.A.F vision, network architecture, and prepare it for future business success. "The networks should be elastic. We can build an all-optical foundation to bring fiber to everywhere with OTN and optical cross-connect, or OXC. Spine-leaf architecture can enable more scalability for a datacenter-centric network. SRv6 deployed over the entire network can enable end-to-end slicing," elaborates Peng. Technologies such as PON and OXC are required to make network services greener. The service providers can also leverage automation to enhance efficiency and bring down operational expenditure. 
Communications networks form the foundation of the growing digital ecosystem in the country and it is imperative that the service providers rethink the networks to address the evolving demands of the users. The C.A.F model shows the way to the telcos to upgrade and gain new network capabilities to maximize the gains from the digital economy.