This might be the most difficult category in the Leading Lights. How exactly does one compare an Ethernet PHY to next-gen carrier routing software? The answer is with great joy because the rate of change and the wide variety we're seeing in telecom-focused optical, IP and Ethernet products and technologies make this stuff interesting. We don't mind getting lost in thought when pondering what this new stuff will enable and what applications await us just around the corner.
This year seven companies (and six products) have been shortlisted, with the award going to the company that has developed a potentially market-leading optical/IP/Ethernet product that, through engineering and technical excellence, enables the deployment of profitable next-generation telecom services. My bias, of course, is toward stuff that has the potential to stand out, not necessarily something that's a de facto commercial home run.
The six companies and products in the running are:
- AT&T and Colt Technology Services – MEF Sonata LSO API
- Cisco – 8000 Series router
- Ericsson – Router 6673
- Infinera – XR Optics
- Microchip – META-DX1 Ethernet PHY device family
- RtBrick – RtBrick Full Stack
The Leading Lights winners, and the identities of this year's Light Reading Hall of Fame inductees, will be announced online, on August 21, during a special video presentation on www.lightreading.com, one month before the start of the Big 5G Event.
Here's a closer look at the companies shortlisted for Most Innovative Telecoms Product (Optical/IP/Carrier Ethernet/FTTH):
AT&T and Colt Technology Services – MEF Sonata LSO API
AT&T and Colt Technology Services seem to have the market's first implementation of the MEF’s Lifecycle Service Orchestration (LSO) Sonata APIs. These APIs aim to automate address validation, site selection, product offering qualification, quoting, product ordering and product inventory between the two carriers. It's a bit in the weeds, but it's a big deal. This kind of "handshaking" between networks automates numerous processes and cuts down on mistakes. The carrier duo, which demonstrated intercarrier SDN-based delivery for Ethernet services in 2015, said in their entry that this new API implementation "enables frictionless commerce across the global telecoms industry."
Cisco – 8000 Series router
There's a lot of "new" to go around in Cisco's 8000 Series router – new software, new silicon, a new architecture and it makes up part of a new business model. The 8000 Series router is among the first set of products based on Cisco's Silicon One Q100 chips. And, as we wrote about quite a bit last year, the system offers an impressive range of sizes and configurations for service providers, cloud companies and enterprises. One thing we shouldn't overlook, though, is the importance of the software underpinning all the new hardware and a new, more flexible technology architecture. Cisco said its new network operating system has a 50% reduced memory footprint, with 50% faster boot times and 40% faster download times. When looking at their core communications infrastructure, the ability to do more with less is exactly what service providers want.
Ericsson – Router 6673
Ericsson's Ethernet-friendly Router 6673 supports fronthaul connectivity options for 5G networks, even as many service providers were still working on the best way to evolve the transport network to accommodate 5G traffic. With the 6673, a service provider could use the same platform to do fronthaul transport as it does to deliver carrier ethernet services to enterprise networks, as well as serving as a fixed broadband access aggregation node. For service providers that are already Ericsson radio access network customers, the platform can convert TDM-based CPRI to packet-based eCPRI for an efficient way to aggregate and automate traffic flows between the radios and the signal-processing (or baseband) equipment. It also supports radio over Ethernet (RoE) for other radios in the network. "With the 6673, an operator can start to realize their vision of a common, converged access network for RAN, enterprise and residential services," the Ericcson entry proclaimed. Perhaps I'm a sucker for a good convergence story.
Infinera – XR Optics
In the point-to-point world of metro optical networking, Infinera has developed a technology that allows service providers to change the topology of their metro networks to more closely resemble the traffic patterns dominating those networks. As reported last year, Infinera's XR Optics would behave something like a radio at a cell tower -- where a single radio can talk to hundreds or thousands of endpoints -- and handle them individually. It could also save service providers some ongoing operational costs because they'd no longer need a transceiver at either end of an optical signal – one transceiver could "talk" to a variety of endpoints using a variety of different frequencies. This is a pretty disruptive idea but it does require a big change in service provider thinking and can't be fully brought to market by Infinera alone.
Microchip – META-DX1 Ethernet PHY device family
From its Microsemi acquisition, Microchip enters this contest with "the industry's first Terabit-Scale Ethernet PHY, supporting up to 1.2Tbit/s." This set of breakthrough physical layer (PHY) transceivers is used in routers, switches and transport equipment to enable the traffic capacity and scalability required in today's bandwidth-intensive telecom networks. For 5G networking deployments, Microchip touts its ability to provide timestamping "with nanosecond-level accuracy on every port."
RtBrick – RtBrick Full Stack
Yet another disaggregated routing system has caught our attention in this Leading Lights class. This time it's RtBrick, which used its technology as part of a multivendor solution that helped Deutsche Telekom replace its conventional broadband access equipment in 1,000 locations across Germany. The company's webscale approach to building routers -- running carrier routing software on bare metal switches -- is aimed at two specific use cases: subscriber broadband access and mobile aggregation. But the company has also talked up use cases for data center interconnect and peering, too. There are a lot of options and approaches in this space, but RtBrick's Full Stack is in a big deployment, at a big carrier and really does seem to be proving that carrier-grade and webscale aren't mutually exclusive.