Executive need to listen

ARTICLE | September 23, 2021 | 2 min read

Lumen Technologies brings data and applications to the edge

How a leading CSP is forging a path to a digital future

  • Lumen Technologies is leveraging its worldwide fiber network to create a new digital-services platform
  • Fiber is the basis for many new and emerging 5G networks
  • The Lumen Platform, with next-gen business applications and data, is critical for smart factories, self-driving cars, and other Industry 4.0 technologies
  • First, computing migrated to the cloud. Now, the edge is bringing the cloud closer to the user.

    Virtual and augmented reality, self-driving cars, and smart factories depend on high-speed connections. Lumen Technologies, the nation’s third-largest communications service provider, or CSP, is focused on leveraging its global fiber network to build a platform to support these advanced technologies.

    Lumen has something that many competitors lack: approximately 450,000 route fiber miles that span the globe.

    Lumen is leaning on that massive network to support a full-fledged platform that satisfies enterprise customers’ demand for high-speed, low-latency computing to drive next-generation technology services.

    Lumen’s platform strategy doesn’t need to provide all these services itself. Instead, it can rely on a portfolio of industry partners. “It’s the platform or ecosystem play that’s the most important,” says Shawn Draper, Lumen’s vice president of enterprise platform engineering.

    To serve large enterprise clients, Lumen combines its extensive fiber network with multi-access edge computing (MEC) capabilities that move applications closer to users and digital interactions, making network connections faster and more efficient. The company says that by the end of the year, it should have edge computing nodes close enough for more than 98% of U.S. enterprises to achieve connection speeds that deliver five milliseconds (or fewer) of latency—a benchmark necessary for emerging applications that demand near-instant response times.

    Fiber networks provide the core communications backbone for any data service, whether wired or wireless—indeed, signals between cellular towers are carried over optical-fiber cables. Even the latest 5G services, which promise much faster wireless connectivity, depend on fiber to carry signals over longer distances. Fiber “is a very complementary technology to the 5G offerings that are out there,” says Draper.

    Draper says the core of Lumen’s strategy is automating its ability to deliver “network as a service.” Previously, jobs like designing optical networks for customers could take weeks or months to accomplish, he says. With automation, the process could be whittled down to hours.

    The ability to standardize and automate these functions through digital workflows is where ServiceNow (publisher of Workflow), comes into play, Draper says. ServiceNow’s digital platform “gives us the ability to simplify and streamline the consumption of network access.”

    Lumen has created other new partnerships, including one with SAP, through which the Lumen cloud management platform will host and manage SAP HANA infrastructure for businesses. The company also inked a deal to bring Microsoft Azure features onto the Lumen platform. Additionally, VMware and Lumen have an agreement for Lumen to deliver edge services using integrated VMware technologies to help enterprises expand across data center, cloud and edge, moving business applications that require low latency and efficient localization closer to digital interactions.

    In collaboration with T-Mobile, Lumen aims to help enterprises build and manage applications connected via T-Mobile’s 5G network and over the Lumen edge computing platform.

    With faster wireless and less latency in connecting to powerful edge computing nodes, factories could use augmented and virtual reality to monitor for parts defects and automate processes for immediately fixing problems, says Ajeet Das, a telecommunications infrastructure research director for IDC. Stadiums could adjust bandwidth functions during games to maximize quality of service. Combined 5G and edge computing networks would give self-driving cars the real-time processing needed to respond instantly to rapidly changing traffic conditions.

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