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Ciena CTO Says No to Skynet, Advocates Adaptive Networks

Kelsey Kusterer Ziser
6/14/2018
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OTTAWA -- The telecom industry is moving toward autonomous networks, but Ciena says it is taking a different approach. As a supplier of optical, packet and software automation technologies, Ciena is eager to promote the "Adaptive Network" as a means to enable the network to react to unanticipated changes in traffic, connectivity and services.

In a recent interview with Light Reading, Brian Lavallée, senior director of Solutions Marketing for Ciena Corp. (NYSE: CIEN), says the Adaptive Network could assist service providers in managing and re-allocating bandwidth for the "glut of traffic demand" in upcoming 5G mobile networks. Also, he says this approach can help operators turn up services faster and "get rid of those mundane tasks people do over and over again that are error-prone."

At Ciena's annual Vectors Event in Ottawa, Ontario, Light Reading sat down with Ciena CTO Steve Alexander to discuss why some customers are leery of fully autonomous networks, and how Ciena is collaborating with service provider customers to prepare for 5G deployments with platforms like the Adaptive Network.

Ciena CTO Steve Alexander
Ciena CTO Steve Alexander

Stay tuned for part two of this series where Alexander discusses Ciena's strategies for growth and identifies the next big leap for optical transport technology.

Kelsey Ziser: How is Ciena working with service providers to help prepare for the infrastructure, capacity and traffic management requirements for 5G?

Steve Alexander: Where we usually end up talking to customers about 5G is in three different areas.

One piece of 5G is the user experience, devices like your cell phone gets faster. The second piece that frequently is talked about is point-to-point microwave or millimeter wave, but it's the wireless edge/wireless access. The third piece that's discussed is 5G as the infrastructure for the Internet of Things.

All of those require densification at the edge of network. So more antenna locations, more fiber to more antenna locations, higher rates per site -- densifying the edge of the network and adding more and more capacity. So customers want to know how to put fiber closer to the edge of network -- the MSOs in particular have a project called Fiber deep which is replacing what is effectively the old analog coax plant with a fiber plant as close to the edge customers as they can make it go practically. If you already have fiber connections to cell towers, you're talking about how to move them from 1G connections to 10G connections – we even see some folks thinking about moving to 100G connections to handle the sheer volume of traffic coming to the network from the edge. (See Optical on the Up: OFC 2018.)


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There's a lot of interest in a technology called Time Sensitive Networking where you can specify, on a service flow by service flow basis, how the network will treat [traffic] in terms of total latency. So you can have some high priority and low priority traffic and network will behave differently depending on the types of traffic.

The customer conversations have been very broad and deep – a lot of discussions on connectivity and capacity but also discussions on "How do I build the network so it can adapt to all these different traffic types I'm seeing come on board?"

Next Page: Steve Alexander on the Adaptive Network versus Skynet

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Gabriel Brown
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Gabriel Brown,
User Rank: Light Sabre
6/15/2018 | 4:10:28 AM
Re: The Adaptive Company
Also interesting he chose to mention Time Sensitive Networking. 

One curiosity is that you can run 5G over TSN (e.g. for Ethernet fronthaul, x-haul, etc.). And in other contexts you can run TSN over 5G radio (e.g. or industrial IoT). Simples ;)
Kelsey Ziser
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Kelsey Ziser,
User Rank: Blogger
6/14/2018 | 4:41:41 PM
Re: The Adaptive Company
@Sterling thanks for providing that historical context. The Adaptive Network discussion came up throughout the Vectors event and Ciena discussed how their different technologies fit into the Adaptive Network layers of programmable infrastructure; analytics and intelligence; and software control and automation.
Sterling Perrin
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Sterling Perrin,
User Rank: Light Sabre
6/14/2018 | 4:25:16 PM
The Adaptive Company
Good interview.

One thing that occurs to me in reading this is how little Steve's comments have in common with what he would have been talking about 20 or even 10 years ago - it was once all about DWDM and optical switching. The ability to adapt to market changes is a big part of why Ciena is around today and many others are not. 

In the early days of optical switching, I remember many conversations with Tellabs in which they said they have no need to move away from their massive DCS business. When the "telecom winter" hit in 2001, rival Sycamore hibernated to wait it out while Ciena made acquisition bets to expand into new areas. Nortel was once the world optics leader, but Ciena outlasted them, etc.

On one level, the heavy software and automation focus seems a stretch for this company, but they do have a long history of understanding coming change and making the right moves in advance. Steve Alexander certainly contributed to that success.

Sterling
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