With a broader remit this year, the shortlist for Most Innovative Telecoms Product or Service in this year's Leading Lights awards was even more hotly contested than ever and extremely tough to judge, but once again it showed just how much innovation is coming from the Carrier Ethernet, optical and communications service-enabling platform sectors.
Seven companies made the Most Innovative Telecoms Product or Service (Fixed/Carrier Ethernet/Optical) shortlist in this year's Leading Lights awards -- find out more about them below.
The winner will be announced at the Leading Lights Awards dinner on Monday, May 15, at Brazos Hall in Austin, Texas. On the following day, the Big Communications Event opens its doors for two days of learning, networking and fun.
To find out which companies were shortlisted across all of this year's Leading Lights categories, please check out this story. (See Leading Lights 2017: The Finalists.)
So let's take a look at our finalists.
II-VI Photonics has advanced the management of optical fiber with its embedded Optical Time Domain Reflectometer (e-OTDR), which shrinks the functionalities of an OTDR instrument into a compact device for integration into optical systems that can then provide real-time monitoring of the fiber plant.
That's a step forward because most OTDR tools are standalone elements that require an interruption in service to be used and which require trained staff to operate them. Some pluggable OTDRs are available but only detect faults once they have happened. The II-VI e-OTDR "provides the real time intelligence of the network plant, embedded into network management," enabling the fiber plant to be monitored at startup and as network events occur, "to ensure decision making is based on optimum information when and where it is needed."
BroadSoft Inc. has further tapped into the market for cloud-based unified communications with the addition of the Hub to its BroadSoft Business proposition.
BroadSoft Business With Hub provides an integrated set of cloud-based PBX, unified communications, team collaboration and contact center applications that includes "contextual intelligence" to provide "immediate access to relevant information for every conversation" from a user's files. "A key differentiator of Hub is the built-in ability to search through all a business user's cloud applications and find the files, notes and content relevant to the conversation or meeting they are having," notes Broadsoft in its Leading Lights submission.
The platform enables service providers to offer a single vendor solution and relationship to business customers, making it an easier and more cost-effective proposition that combining separate solutions while also enabling users to scale up and down as needed.
BroadSoft Business with Hub is being used by several customers within the vendor's user base of 600+ service providers.
It's fair to say that Calix Inc. (NYSE: CALX) is bullish about the prospects for its AXOS E9-2 Intelligent Edge System, which, it claims, "redefines the edge of the access network and brings intelligence to networks that historically terminated simple, non-instrumented broadband ports."
The E9-2 incorporate "hardware and software abstraction" using the vendor's AXOS software-defined access platform, embedding a range of capabilities including layer 3 routing and subscriber management, while at the same time enabling automation and raising the prospects of lower capex and opex.
"By collapsing the functions of multiple network elements into a single system along with NG-PON2, service providers can converge disparate residential, mobile, and business services networks into one," notes Calix.
The system is designed to fit in with next generation central office plans, including CORD (Central Office Re-architected as a Datacenter), takes intelligent functionality to the edge of the network and provides greater flexibility for network planners and CFOs.
It helps that a major operator such as Verizon already has the platform in trials.
As one of the leading players in the still developing optical transport sector, it should come as no surprise to see Ciena once again in this shortlist, this time for its next generation coherent technology, WaveLogic Ai.
The programmable coherent modem enables software-based network automation using open APIs and, by doubling wavelength capacity, offers the prospect of significantly lower transport costs. It also offers single carrier 400G (for applications of 300km), 300G at up to 1,000km, and 200G at 3,000km, which means network operators only need a single modem for a broad range of applications, from data center interconnect (DCI) and other metro services to long-distance subsea connectivity.
Ciena has also embedded real-time network performance monitoring to enable operators to "make intelligent capacity decisions in real-time, resulting in optimum use of network resources and increased profitability."
WaveLogic Ai is an example of emerging optical transport technology that not only offers faster speeds at longer distances using less power but also takes advantage of cutting edge programmability capabilities while offering clear economic benefits and service creation opportunities.
Like all of its packet-oriented peers, Cisco has found itself in the middle of a software-oriented networking transformation that is changing all the rules, and there seems little doubt that the company's Catena solution is a response to this.
Catena is a software tool that can set up and monitor multiple service chains involving multiple elements from multiple vendors (so it is not Cisco-hardware specific). It is, in Cisco's parlance, a "multi-terabit security, service-chaining, load-balancing, analytics and L4-L7 services integration solution" that works with all devices (firewalls, load balancers, DDoS Protection elements and more) in enterprise, data center and wide area networks.
The key pitch here is that not only is Catena vendor-agnostic, but it is built for heavy lifting, scaling up to 40 Tbit/s throughput and can create a large number of service chains comprising multiple elements, whether physical or virtual (including virtual network functions, of VNFs). Cisco's pitch here is that this is a tool for the modern networking age, one that simplifies complex service chaining provisioning processes (involving VLAN stitching or default gateways) with an embedded, flexible, high-capacity, multi-vendor service enablement system that works across all types of networks.
Infinera Corp. (Nasdaq: INFN) has been shaking up the optical world since it was born in 2000 and continues to do so with innovations such as the DTN-X XT Series Meshponders, which build upon the company's Infinite Capacity Engine (ICE).
The vendor's meshponder platforms tick the boxes that optical transport operators are looking for – flexible, scalable, low-power, secure yet with open APIs and with bandwidth management capabilities and, using sliceable photonics, enables high-capacity, multipoint connections. The meshponders themselves are small form, disaggregated photonic elements that do not include digital switching capabilities, but instead interoperate with the switching capabilities of the host platforms.
The Combo PON product from ZTE Corp. (Shenzhen: 000063; Hong Kong: 0763) is targeted at fixed broadband access operators looking to a next generation future, as it provides a platform that enables seamless migration from GPON to 10G PON using line cards that include 8 so-called 'Combo Ports."
This approach integrates GPON and 10G GPON MACs and a wavelength-combiner WDM1r system into one optical module and then outputs their wavelengths through one Combo PON port. This approach negates the need for a standalone WDM1r, so cutting down on deployment costs, reducing the physical space used up and cutting power consumption.
The approach has attracted operator such as Orange, Singtel, China Telecom and China Unicom, among others.
— Ray Le Maistre, , International Group Editor, Light Reading