The Next Big Bang in Network Modernization: SD-WAN and 5G

How high-speed wireless and SD-WAN are transforming branch networking and the edge.

Rene Matawaran
The Next Big Bang in Network Modernization: SD-WAN and 5G

Flexible, high-performance software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN) and 5G wireless technology are converging to create the next big bang in network modernization. The union of these two technologies will change the entire networking landscape for businesses well beyond what 4G did for mobile/wireless communications.

Not to discount the eagerly awaited benefits that 5G will bring to consumer users such as thrilling online gaming and virtual/augmented reality (AR/VR) experiences  ̶  the real impact of marrying  5G and SD-WAN will be felt primarily in enterprise branch networking and interconnecting systems, data, clouds and “things” at the edge.

In some cases, less expensive, programmable 5G links could replace existing wired services when interconnected to SD-WANs and the public internet, however, it is more likely that these optimized networks will complement and coexist with these networks. Given that, enterprises need a strategy for developing digital infrastructure that leverages seamless interconnection between legacy wired networks, SD-WAN, 5G, and branch and edge locations.

The Future is Here: Understand the Impact of 5G

Watch the webinar, “The Future is Here: Understand the Impact of 5G,” featuring a guest speaker from IDC, to learn about strategies that will help your organizations understand and implement 5G technology.

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How digital transformation is also transforming networking

Digital transformation, as seen by the adoption of cloud services (PaaS, IaaS and SaaS), is becoming the dominant method of delivering applications and services to users at core data centers, branch offices and edge locations. This is driving enterprises to extend networking services closer to user populations and points of data creation and consumption, such as Nokia’s WING global IoT platform.

This increase in data and application transfer requires a lot of bandwidth across enterprise WAN backbones. The fourth annual Global Interconnection Index (GXI), a market study published by Equinix, estimates that by 2023, the global installed interconnection bandwidth capacity required to privately and directly exchange traffic among enterprises, partners and providers is expected to reach 16,300+ Terabits per second (Tbps).[i]

As WAN bandwidth demands rapidly increase to meet the needs of expanding digital infrastructure, SD-WAN is becoming more attractive to businesses because it enables flexible hybrid WANs that blend expensive wired circuits, such as MPLS, with less costly, bandwidth-rich public internet connections. This is especially critical for establishing communications to “pop-up” locations at the edge, such as temporary branch offices, mobile retail kiosks or emergency response command posts. We also see recent deployments that establish permanent infrastructures where telecommunications/mobile communications providers, such as AT&T, are provisioning sporting venues with 5G and SD-WAN to provide internet connectivity for streaming live events to an increasing number of online fans.


SD-WAN leverages industry-standard hardware to combine multiple physical WAN links into one logical network. It delivers services such as traffic prioritization and load balancing to accelerate application performance of applications, wherever they are deployed  ̶  at core data centers, branch offices, edge locations or in the cloud. It also improves internet link security, provides higher reliability and enables organizations to significantly increase WAN bandwidth capacity.

The global COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated digital transformation, thus driving greater demand for SD-WAN. These virtual networks have been delivering essential bandwidth to critical online collaboration services such as Cisco Webex®, telemedicine and online education to distributed users. In fact, IDC forecasts that worldwide SD-WAN infrastructure revenue will be worth $6.2 billion by 2024.[ii]


There is no doubt that 5G will transform businesses’ ability to create new use cases that leverage its higher networking speed and capacity. IDC predicts that 5G mobile and subscriber IoT connections will reach 1.01 billion by 2023.[iii] The use cases include making IoT, robotics and VR/AR a reality in the modernization of industries such as manufacturing, transportation, healthcare, construction and public safety.

Source:  Worldwide 5G Connections Forecast, 2019 – 2023, IDC #US43863119, December 2020

5G mobile broadband and SD-WAN enable new services that will complement or serve as an accepted alternative to fixed, wired broadband connectivity (i.e., MPLS or internet broadband) with equal or greater performance.

The benefits of an interconnected 5G and SD-WAN architecture include:

  • High-speed bandwidth capacity
  • Lower costs
  • Improve reliability
  • Rapid provisioning for permanent or temporary locations

Preparing for the big bang of SD-WAN and 5G  

To develop digital infrastructure that incorporates the new capacity and capabilities of modern 5G and SD-WAN architectures, organizations need to leverage a global platform that harnesses easy access to virtual network devices and software-defined interconnection to multiple networks and clouds. Platform Equinix® has a global footprint that is home to more than 1,800 networks and 2,900+ cloud and IT services. Network Edge lets you select, deploy, scale and securely connect to leading network functions virtualization (NFV) providers in minutes, without requiring additional hardware.

Equinix Fabric (ECX Fabric®) uses software-defined interconnection to solve the integration challenges when interconnecting legacy circuit and 5G networks, along with SD-WANs, other NFV services and clouds on Platform Equinix. ECX Fabric acts as an aggregation hub for a variety of physical and virtual networks. It also provides dedicated on-ramps to multiple clouds.

Equinix’s global reach of more than 210+ data centers around the world makes it possible to quickly and reliably provision branch and edge locations with high-speed bandwidth that delivers single-digit latency (<10 milliseconds) to ensure a high quality of experience. We also recently announced the availability of a 5G Proof of Concept Center in our DA11 data center to enable Mobile Network Operators (MNOs), cloud platforms, technology vendors and enterprises to test, demonstrate and accelerate complex 5G and edge deployment and interoperability scenarios.

To learn more about deploying modern SD-WAN and 5G infrastructures on Platform Equinix, watch the webinar: The Future is Here: Understand the Impact of 5G.

You may also be interested in reading our other blogs on 5G and SD-WAN.


[i] Interconnection bandwidth is the total capacity provisioned to privately and directly exchange traffic,

with a diverse set of partners and providers, at distributed IT exchange points inside carrier-neutral

colocation data centers.

[ii] IDC, “Worldwide SD-WAN Infrastructure Forecast, 2020–2024: Secular Trend Intact Despite 2020 COVID-19 Pause,” Aug 2020, IDC Doc # US46613320.

[iii] IDC, “U.S. 5G Connections Forecast, 2020 – 2024,” April 2020, IDC #US46076520, and “Worldwide 5G Connections Forecast, 2019 – 2023,” December 2020, IDC #US43863119.

Enterprises need a strategy for developing digital infrastructure that leverages seamless interconnection between legacy wired networks, SD-WAN, 5G, and branch and edge locations.

5G mobile broadband and SD-WAN enable new services that will complement or serve as an accepted alternative to fixed, wired broadband connectivity with equal or greater performance.

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Rene Matawaran Senior Product and Platform Marketing Manager
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