The Future of Broadband


Looking back over the last decade, we’ve seen broadband connectivity speed increase by over a hundredfold. A new generation of applications requiring high bandwidth and low latency are driving this tremendous growth. Legacy broadband cable service providers are facing new challenges from their current customers while trying to grow their customer base rapidly with fiber, and also from the competing new Communication Service Providers (CSPs), who leverage new technologies like 5G Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) to offer services where fiber installation is costly. This rapid transformation is redefining the future of broadband.

Cloud Chart Broadband

Broadband and 5G: Complementary or Competitive?

While many might believe that 5G will replace traditional broadband networks, the reality is quite the opposite. 5G complements existing broadband infrastructure, providing new opportunities for CSPs and bolstering current networks with Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB) and FWA. Broadband as we know it will continue to be essential for delivering high-speed internet access to homes and enterprises. The two technologies will work together to offer seamless connectivity, as the CSP’s rollout of 5G will more likely complement the existing broadband network infrastructure and provide new business opportunities for the CSPs.

New Possibilities with Edge Computing

Whether the last mile is fiber or wireless, intelligent broadband equipment with edge computing capabilities provides a new way for cable providers and CSPs to innovate and bring services and applications closer to the end customers. This allows them to provide a better customer experience while generating new service and revenue models.

Competing for Last-Mile Dominance

To stay ahead of the surging demand for high-speed mobile data driven by services like streaming, cloud computing, and generative AI—all of which require fast, secure data delivery—wireless providers face the challenge of identifying growth regions. This task often feels like finding a needle in a haystack. New service providers seeking to expand wireless broadband into untapped areas must overcome capacity challenges. If managed well, these challenges could allow them to outpace legacy cable operators, who are defending their market share by upgrading to fiber and PON technologies, leveraging the new DOCSIS 4.0 for symmetrical multigigabit speeds, and redesigning their networks with Distributed Access Architecture (DAA).

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Figure 1. Path to 10 Gigabit broadband networks.

Broadband Networks of the Future: A Technology-Agnostic Approach

Future broadband won’t rely on any single technology. Fiber, 5G Fixed Wireless Access (FWA), Cable, DSL (Digital Subscriber Line), PON (Passive Optical Networking), WiFi, and satellite will all contribute to connectivity. Even future technologies such as 6G mobile networks with specific use cases like railways traveling with speeds up to 1000km/h are in development.

One of the essential requirements for future broadband will continue to be faster Internet speeds for current and emerging applications. Technologies like WiFi 6 and 5G are driving gigabit speeds, with fiber also becoming more widely available. The focus is on higher speeds as we transition from megabits to gigabits, making broadband more affordable, available, and accessible due to rapidly evolving application needs. Not to forget, integrating smarter edge computing into cloud-based broadband networks will surely be a top priority for broadband operators.

Changing the Game with Edge Compute

Edge computing services are reshaping broadband network architecture by offering multiservice platforms that bring applications and content closer to the user, enabling innovative use cases and a better user experience. They integrate computing and networking within cloud-based broadband networks through virtualization and the disaggregation of edge functionalities. This architecture provides a platform for broadband operators to host latency-sensitive applications near their customers, offering a shared infrastructure that can accommodate the differing requirements of multiple clients while maintaining a unified network.

Future broadband subscribers won’t be limited to residential customers, as the evolution of broadband will continue to support mission-critical services such as small and medium businesses, IoT, smart cities, Industry 4.0, transportation, and emerging applications. Broadband operators will differentiate services through diverse user profiles and provision low-latency, high-bandwidth edge computing services with features like session steering, delivering on-demand bandwidth that can detect traffic changes and dynamically adapt to preserve QoE (Quality of Experience). These capabilities are facilitated through mechanisms like compute-aware dynamic routing and dynamic session steering, all running on edge compute within the cloud-based broadband network.

Edge computing represents a unique opportunity for broadband operators as they already own “the last mile,” meaning they are already present in many edge sites. This allows legacy broadband operators to evolve into value-added multiservice broadband service providers, shifting their business offerings beyond bandwidth to network connectivity, compute, and storage. By doing so, they can seamlessly deliver new services like Over-The-Top (OTT) streaming, online gaming, and Virtual reality (VR) with highly reliable connectivity.

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Figure 2. New high-speed/low latency broadband applications.

Charting the Future of Broadband

The future of broadband holds tremendous potential, promising limitless connectivity that will help bridge the digital divide. Edge computing will empower CSPs and legacy providers to harness powerful new capabilities. A multiservice network will offer faster, more accessible, and affordable options, focusing on delivering Terabit (Tbps) speeds with low latency and efficient power usage. This next-generation broadband infrastructure will underpin the evolution of the Internet, enabling massive connectivity for IoT devices, Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), and AI, all of which will shape the future Internet landscape. The intriguing question remains: what speeds will the Internet reach by 2050?

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About the Author
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Mikael Holmberg
Distinguished Engineer and Member of the Office of the CTO

Mikael Holmberg is a Distinguished Engineer and Member of the Office of the CTO at Extreme Networks - he was the first person in company history to earn that title!

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