Open optical networks: Looking to the future

Results from Heavy Reading's Open, Automated & Programmable Transport Networks Market Leadership Survey indicate technology maturation in open optical networking may outpace the ability to manage and operate it at scale. #sponsored

Sterling Perrin, Senior Principal Analyst, Heavy Reading

August 11, 2022

4 Min Read
Open optical networks: Looking to the future

This blog is sponsored by Infinera.

Several big picture trends are driving transport networks in 2022 that will have a major impact on architectures over the next five years and beyond. What these megatrends all have in common is the central role of openness and automation.

In May 2022, Heavy Reading conducted the inaugural Open, Automated & Programmable Transport Networks Market Leadership Survey with project partners Ciena, Fujitsu, Infinera and Juniper. The 2022 survey attracted 78 qualified network operator responses from around the world, sharing their views on transport automation timelines and requirements, cloud automation, optical line systems and IP over DWDM.

This blog is the first in a four-part series highlighting the key findings from the 2022 study. It focuses on key trends in open optical networking.

Open line systems

An open line system disaggregates the optical line (including amplifiers, multiplexers/demultiplexers and ROADMs) from the terminals and optical transponders, allowing network operators to choose their transponder suppliers independently of the line. An open line was one of the earliest use cases for transport disaggregation identified by network operators in past surveys.

Heavy Reading's latest survey indicates that just over one-fifth of operators intend to have in place disaggregated, multi-vendor optical line systems by the end of 2022. An additional 29% plan such deployments in 2023. Thus, by year-end 2023, exactly half of the operators surveyed expect disaggregated line deployments.

Given the question's focus on multi-vendor open lines, the timeline looks ambitious. The group surveyed skews more toward operators engaged in transport automation, so it is further along in automation rollouts and planning compared to the overall communications market. Additionally, Heavy Reading survey respondents are typically optimistic when asked about timelines and tend to give responses based on best case scenarios. Still, the results indicate a clear intent and direction toward truly disaggregated open optical lines.

Figure 1: When does your organization plan to deploy open line systems together with disaggregated transponders/transponders from another vendor? n=77 (Source: Heavy Reading) n=77
(Source: Heavy Reading)

Machine learning

Machine learning (ML) is a popular branch of artificial intelligence (AI) that uses computers to process data to recommend actions and make predictions about the future. Network operators have been applying ML functions to optical networks for a couple of years (with predictive network health as one example), and they envision multiple benefits as they build open optical networks for the future. Topping the list of targeted ML functions are network design and service planning, predictive network health and predictive traffic growth — each selected by 48% of the survey group.

Figure 2: Which of these operational functions will benefit the most from machine learning in an open optical network? (global) n=77 (Source: Heavy Reading) n=77
(Source: Heavy Reading)

Filtering the ML results by the "optical specialists" in the survey yields a somewhat different — though not radically different — picture of ML priorities. Optical specialists are those respondents who focus specifically on optical networks, as identified in the survey demographics. For this group, predictive traffic growth is also the top choice, but self-tunable transponders rise significantly (from 27% for the global group to 45% for the specialists). Predictive modelling for greener networks is a low ML priority for both the global group and the optical specialists.

Coherent pluggable optics

Lastly, the survey looks at the integration of coherent pluggable optics on IP routers (i.e., IP over DWDM), which is one of the hottest topics in optical networking this year. Despite the hype and excitement, the industry has significant challenges to overcome across technology, management and operations. For managing coherent pluggable optics in routers, the top challenge identified by service provider respondents, by far, is maintaining the existing operational practices of IP/routing domains and optical domains. This challenge was cited by 61% of the survey group.

For large, incumbent network operators, in particular, siloed organizations and operational practices loom large as an inhibitor despite the tremendous progress on the coherent technology and standardization fronts. In the survey, only 28% of respondents self-identified as working in converged packet and optical network teams. But they also cited maintaining existing operational practices as the top challenge in managing coherent pluggable optics in IP over DWDM architectures.

As is often the case in communications, technology maturation outpaces the ability to manage and operate it at scale. Heavy Reading expects this will also ring true for integrated coherent optics.

Figure 3: What are your top challenges managing coherent pluggable optics deployed in nontraditional optical platforms (e.g., IPoDWDM)? n=77 (Source: Heavy Reading) n=77
(Source: Heavy Reading)

Looking for more information?

– Sterling Perrin, Senior Principal Analyst — Optical Networking & Transport, Heavy Reading

This blog is sponsored by Infinera.

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About the Author(s)

Sterling Perrin

Senior Principal Analyst, Heavy Reading

Sterling has more than 20 years of experience in telecommunications as an industry analyst and journalist. His coverage area at Heavy Reading is optical networking, including packet-optical transport and 5G transport.

Sterling joined Heavy Reading after five years at IDC, where he served as lead optical networks analyst, responsible for the firm’s optical networking subscription research and custom consulting activities. In addition to chairing and moderating many Light Reading events, Sterling is a NGON & DCI World Advisory Board member and past member of OFC’s N5 Market Watch Committee. Sterling is a highly sought-after source among the business and trade press.

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