‘Cable landing stations are inefficient,’ says Ciena

28 August 2018 | Natalie Bannerman

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Ciena’s Brian Lavellée, senior director of solutions marketing, talks to Capacity about the most pressing topics in the subsea cable industry and how Ciena is pushing the envelope in submarine cable technology innovation.

Ciena technology has always been at the heart of various submarine cables, from GlobeNet’s GeoMesh Extreme solution along its 23,500km subsea fibre system across the Americas, to Sweden’s Eastern Light using the same technology in its routes in the region.

Lavellée pulls no punches when it comes to the debate about data centres versus cable landing stations. “Cable landing stations are an inefficient demarcation point for subsea data as it transitions to terrestrial networks,” he says.

“As a result many operators are implementing coherent detection and remote optical add/drop multiplexers (ROADMs), to reduce the infrastructure footprint and move the majority of functionality inland to the data centre.”

Although the cable landing station is likely to diminish in size and power requirements over time, it is unlikely to disappear, he says. It “commonly houses the power feed equipment that powers the submerged wet plant”.

Over-the-top (OTT) players are influencing the industry through continued investment but Lavellée says that they will continue to send their traffic over traditional cables on routes where they don’t have a presence or require diversity.

“The entrance of over-the-top (OTT) players into the telecoms sector is certainly shaking things up,” he says. “Content providers are investing in existing and new submarine cables to connect their data centres to address growing capacity demands.”

He continues: “These investments provide them with more independence and agility, allowing them greater control over their own destinies. There will still be OTT traffic over traditional submarine cables, both private and consortium [cables], on routes where OTTs currently do not have enough owned capacity and/or want increased diversity.”

As a telecommunications vendor, Ciena has an opportunity to develop new solutions and technologies to tackle aging cable infrastructure, increased demand and limited fibre networks.

“As the laying of new wet plants is quite expensive, most of the existing cable owners are looking to innovative modern technologies that can continually increase their cables’ capacity well past their original design limits, wherever possible.”

One such innovation is the company’s WaveLogic-centric family of products, which addresses the growing needs of the modern telecommunications operator to combat increasing data requirements and to simply evolve complex network architectures.

As we switch gears to discuss the ever approaching 5G and IoT technologies, Lavellée says that in order to meet these large scale needs, some telcos will need new infrastructure, while others will simply require smarter infrastructure.

“In order to achieve these increases in the wireless environment – speed, capacity, and latency reductions – it will be necessary to significantly improve the supporting wireline infrastructure that carries data between the data centre and the user,” explains Lavellée. “In some cases this will involve new infrastructure while in others it will require smarter infrastructure that can more effectively scale and adapt to meet local demand on a global level.”

Ciena has already begun the process of trying to establish large-scale 5G ready networks, says Lavellée, and it is working with operators, OTTs and service providers around the world to help optimise their existing infrastructure while preparing for the next generation of connected technologies.

“Though fibre is necessary to enable 5G, once that fibre is available, we can help cable owners to increase signal density, taking incremental steps towards achieving the 100-times higher data rates and device connections on offer, while capitalising on 4G LTE wins in the immediate term,” he adds.

“Given that wireless devices are the vehicle of choice to access content hosted in data centres, the 100-fold speed increases of 5G over 4G/LTE will only increase the amount of user-to-content and content-to-content DCI traffic, the latter of which is often via submarine cables.”

Ciena one of a few vendors that plays in various telecoms verticals. As well as subsea it has offerings in metro network technology, SDN and NFV, data centre interconnects, automation and so on. Lavellée says that it is the subsea market that offers the biggest opportunity for growth for the company.

“Subsea is currently a strong and highly strategic business area for Ciena, and will continue to be a primary market, particularly as data traffic moving from east to west continues to grow at such a rapid pace,” he says.

“In order for developing economies to better access and compete in the global marketplace, we expect to see ongoing investment in upgrading network capacity and performance across regional subsea cables.”

He says that metro networks will become a key driver of network development and optimisation, as enterprise, OTT providers and financial organisations begin to realise the business benefits of faster connections with lower latency.

“As the business case for investment is directly linked to future profitability, it will be more feasible for these organisations to justify the costs associated with developing their local infrastructure.”

Ciena is very focused on its vision of building adaptive networks, a message that the company has been driving home for a while now. “Survival of the fittest means survival of the most adaptive,” it declares on its website.

How does this vision translate to the subsea side of things? Lavellée breaks it down into three fundamental layers.

The first is programmable infrastructure, an intelligent layer that interprets data so the network can make decisions.

Second there are analytics and intelligence. The programmable layer generates data which can used to dictate relevant policy and identify network trends that can be used for additional optimisation, either by a network operator or by automated infrastructure.

And lastly there is the software control and automation layer, which allows the effective automation of tasks ensuring the network is kept up and running at peak performance.

Lavellée says Ciena, with such solutions as its GeoMesh Extreme submarine network architecture, views networks holistically from end-to-end. “This means our Adaptive Network vision is applicable overland and undersea,” he says.

He sees the same trend towards faster development in Asia and the Asia-Pacific as many other industry players. Lavellée predicts that this won’t end any time soon as ongoing investment in the region will ensure that the local economy can compete on a global level.

“As more and more data is generated in these markets – for example, India – and transferred to western networks, the need to establish improved infrastructures and network architectures to effectively manage the data traffic will increase at a dramatic rate.”

Ciena is a company that is built on innovation and cutting-edge developments and it goes without saying that a number of challenges will arise as it attempts to meet all these various demands.

“The advent of 5G will place a lot of pressure on subsea networks that are already reaching, and in some cases, exceeding their capacity,” explains Lavellée. “Ciena’s challenge has for a long time concerned helping customers to get greater performance out of existing infrastructure to drive profits through manageable investments in optimising technologies.”

Interoperability and complex network architectures are also a concern for Ciena, he adds, suggesting that some much needed consolidation is in order.

“With many vendors working in the space, customers often approach us with complex multi-vendor network architectures, which need to be consolidated and made more efficient to enable further reductions in overheads and operating costs,” he observes. “Our ongoing efforts to ensure our solutions are open and compatible with various technologies through open APIs ensure that subsea cable operators are able to easily upgrade their infrastructure with minimal disruption to the existing architecture.”

Ciena has already started work on addressing these challenges and meeting these data demands, he says.

“We’re already helping our customers to increase bandwidth to up to 400Gbps, and through continued innovation we will further increase data density to provide the greatest possible returns on infrastructure investments.”