Ciena appears to have enjoyed a dream run in India's optical transport market. According to a recent study by market research firm Ovum, the company is the number-one optical supplier to Indian telcos. No wonder Steve Alexander, Ciena's chief technology officer, refers to India as "the land of opportunities."
Yet consolidation among Indian telcos has left Ciena Corp. (NYSE: CIEN) with fewer potential customers. The number of operators has fallen from as many as 12 in most circles (service areas) to just three from the private sector and one government-backed company. India's government, moreover, has initiated a move to promote local manufacturing and cut telcos' reliance on foreign firms. In an interview with Light Reading, Alexander talks about the challenges the company faces in the country, and the kind of innovation he foresees in the packet optical market.
Light Reading: Do you see Indian operators using 5G technology initially to increase spectral and operational efficiency, rather than to launch new 5G services?
Steve Alexander: I think what you will find is that the telcos will use 5G technologies to provide a better user experience in the dense urban areas, and so, wherever the existing networks in 4G environment limit them, they will put 5G technologies to improve the user experience in that area.
I think you will find that once the local entrepreneurs realize the potential of having high-speed connections locally, they will be very creative about the kind of applications that get developed. It may or may not be like remote surgery, but there is much interest in the Internet of Things and many other technologies that could be brought here. The 5G technology upgrades the user experience, and once telcos deploy these technologies you will find that it also unleashes a vein of creativity from the local entrepreneurs.
LR: What technical challenges do you face in India? Are they different from challenges in other countries?
SA: India has the opportunity to have more of a greenfield approach, because these types of network are sometimes getting deployed for the first time in the country. At the same time, there is so much construction, so much modernization going on that sometimes the infrastructure gets interrupted -- the electricity will fail... you get typical infrastructure problems.
LR: Ciena often talks about the adaptive network. What does that mean for India?
SA: The adaptive network has a number of components, and one of them is automation, which helps to scale these networks that are growing so rapidly in India. We do this by adding software intelligence to the network so that it can keep up with hundreds of potential users and applications, and with all the information that's flowing out to the user.
LR: There is a regulatory move to manufacture in India and make the country self-sufficient on telecom equipment? What are Ciena's thoughts on this?
SA: Certainly, we will support this over time. It would be difficult to do it now because the manufacturing base tends to be more in South East Asia and we do a lot of manufacturing in Mexico. However, over time we can outsource the manufacturing capabilities to local contractors and, if they prove to have the right kind of capability, we would be perfectly happy to take advantage of it.
LR: What kind of innovations can we expect in the packet networking market in future?
SA: In the past you would procure different types of equipment for each layer. Over time what has happened is that the different network layers have converged and now you can have one equipment layer that provides all the functionalities. It really is simple, and one network element can do the job of three or four network elements of the past.
You are also going to see continued evolution of the feature set of the network elements. We have been driving innovation in general, where data rates are concerned, for almost a decade now. The current highest rate that is shipped today is 400G on a wavelength. We have been shipping it for over a year, and still don't have a competitor, and no one else has been able to make that on a single wavelength. So you can expect continued improvements in data rates and that will help in driving the cost down. Besides that, there will be additional features and functionalities to enhance the intelligence in the network.
— Gagandeep Kaur, contributing editor, special to Light Reading