Xtera talks automation, virtualisation and increased bandwidth

19 March 2018 | Natalie Bannerman


Xtera founder and CSO Robert Richardson and CTO Tony Frisch talk the company's latest innovations and the condition of the industry from the perspective of a supplier

Xtera founder and CSO Robert Richardson and CTO Tony Frisch sat down with Capacity to discuss the company’s latest technological offerings and some of the biggest topics affecting the market at the moment.

Tony Frisch 200 x 300Speaking on winning the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) contract. Richardson said: “This is the second contract from DISA, the first contract was awarded in 2015 but that was to build a cable system for a naval station at Dania Beach, Florida and connects to the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station. So before then all the naval bases communications were done by satellite, so it was very big step for them."

Under the new contract Xtera will build a new regional submarine cable system, deploying a full turnkey subsea system, including undersea optical repeaters, Nu-Wave Optima Submarine Line Terminal Equipment, cable and all marine services.

“This second project connects to that cable system, going to Puerto Rico to a PoP in a place called Fort Buchannan, which I believe was an air national guard facility, but it gives them onwards connectivity,” continues Richardson. “The good thing for DISA is now they have route diversity, so that if anything happens to the first route this second one still gets them to Puerto Rico and from Puerto Rico there are numerous cables that take them back to the US.”

Another recent development includes the announcement of the expansion of the 55nm of its current subsea amplifier towards 100nm, a move that will offer more than double the capacity of current systems.

Explaining how this is achieved Frisch says: “Nm is nanometres, it’s the measure of the bandwidth. Most people sell around 35-40 nanometres and we’ve been selling from 35 up to 55. We’ve got technology in the lab which allows us to roughly get up to 100 and that’s pretty close to the limit. And to that we use a piece of technology, which I think is special for Xtera."

"We use the fibre that’s actually in the cable as an amplifier so, not all of it, but something like the last 30-40 kilometres of cable we pump with an optical light source at a different wavelength, to the traffic wavelength and it has the effect, if you do it right, of turning that bit of fibre from a loss into a slight gain. What we’re doing to get the really big bandwidth is, we’re not pumping just one wavelength we’re pumping two different wavelengths. And that gives us two different wavelengths to gain. So the combination of those amplification wavelengths plus, the fibre give us 100 nm of bandwidth.”

But that’s not all the Xtera team have been cooking up, they’ve also been working on a virtualisation product, which also serves a very real need in the marketplace.

“One of things we’ve seen a lot is as we’ve been getting bigger and bigger capacity inside the fibre,” says Frisch. “You find that a lot of users say that’s actually more capacity than they actually want. But the ability to have your own fibre not a very good solution because every fibre needs to have its own amplifier which would be very expensive,” continues Frisch.

Robert J Richardson 200 x 300“A better solution would be if you could somehow get them to share that capacity. Butthe problem is if you do that, there’s an immediate concern about security, not in terms of people getting access to the other person’s data – although that is something that some people do worry about, but it’s like anything that you share, if you share a car with someone and they’re careless with it, then you have the problem that when you’re ready to use it, its dirty or doesn’t work very well and the same thing happen with fibre systems. If you’ve got one guy with half the capacity and two others with a quarter of the capacity and the first guy decides to do some maintenance on his terminal and disconnects it, he’s now removed half the wavelengths that were in the system and subsea systems can’t tolerate that, it upsets the whole transmission of the other wavelengths.

So here Xtera’s solution: “So to get round that what we’ve developed is some equipment that looks at all the wavelengths that have been put in by the different parties and is kind of like a policeman. It checks whether the wavelengths are the ones they were allocated whether the power levels are correct and can make a simple adjustments. If for example someone tries to take more than their fair share of amplified power it will turn it down and if something is removed completely it will put in dummy traffic to make sure everything continues to work. And the effect of this, if done really carefully is that someone using the system doesn’t really need to know or care about any of the other users, it’s as if they had their own fibre, says Frisch. “It’s virtualisation, he adds.”

Interoperability is also high on the list of requirements from Xtera customers, one the subsea cable technology specialist has met.

“One of the things lots of people have been talking about is when they buy a system they don’t want to be tied to the supplier of the wet bits from the supply of the dry bits,” says Frisch. “Because there’s a bit of a competitive loss you get there if you have to buy from the same guy, it puts you at a disadvantage. This is a way of getting round it, we essentially provide equipment that makes that part unnecessary. But you don’t want to take it on trust that you can hook up someone else’s equipment and it’ll be fine and we’ve been working to actually check with other suppliers that they can come and connect their other equipment and there won’t be any problems. So it removes one of the uncertainties and makes it easier to write a contract where you buy part of your system from one supplier and the other part from the other supplier. It’s us just being genuinely open.”

As for the sea of change that OTTs have brought to the subsea cable industry, Richardson says: “I think there has been a massive change, if you think about how subsea cables were built before the OTT’s got really interested. Carriers usually in consortia, would build the cable system to continents and they would own and operate it, and sell wave lengths on it. And initially OTT’s were buying wavelengths from various carriers, then they wanted to drive the cost down so now they’ve decided to be the anchor tenant/investor and gone from negotiating with a AT&T or Vodafone for capacity to basically saying I’ll go and find a cable developer and we’ll partner with them.”

In affect he says that OTTs have changed both the business model and the power dynamic.

“It’s changed the whole model really,” continues Richardson. “We’ve moved from carriers being the purveyors of long-haul bandwidth to the OTT’s doing it themselves. With a whole new focus, it’s really disrupted the market. I understand that if the FCC’s net neutrality thing comes carriers will then have control of access.”

As a supplier Xtera is somewhat neutral when it comes to connecting at a cable landing station or at the data centre, explaining: “I don’t really know what’s driving that, but it really is data that everyone’s transferring now and it’s logical that you’re going to see more and more data centre connections.”

“From our view it isn’t really any different, we’re just making sure that we can always connect from one place to another. From our view point we’re agnostic, because we’re a supplier, one thing that we’ll try and do is if we transfer that data from one end to the other, it goes all the way in one go rather than having to sort of be split down and then reassembled.”

As for 2018 it’s clear that will all the new solutions being launched Xtera is set to have an eventful year, specifically

Frisch says that “product development and increased bandwidth” are part of the roadmap. Adding that “increases in functionality that makes it easier for customers to do the things they want to do and things centred on doing things that you aren’t present for – unmanned” are also due for the course.

“More automation, better automation. Better remote control, a lot more focus on security says Frisch. “People are a lot more concerned about security.”