Infinera’s CEO argues open networks, bandwidth growth, and unprecedented cost effectiveness will trigger new times in service provision
No one can deny the world of connectivity is firmly in the middle of massive expansions, upgrades, and new builds. In particular, bandwidth capability has seen brute force capacity upgrades being delivered seemingly from nowhere.
The technology disruption involved is dramatic and transformational: short- and long-haul transmission routes are being boosted even after systems have entered service, sparking enormous economic and business gains we can say are probably unique to telecom infrastructure builds. But more disruption is in prospect too, particularly in how the services themselves will be configured inside providers in the future. Network transformation involving on-demand, self-provisioning automation will offer unprecedented flexibility and bandwidth fluidity say the experts on the cutting edge of the industry.
As a consequence, the value chain of the entire industry is becoming energized at white heat levels. “The massive ongoing industry transformation means a lot of opportunity for suppliers,” says Tom Fallon, CEO of Infinera, a key vendor in the optical space, “[especially those] that are able to combine leadership in optical performance with disruptive innovations.”
In such a complicated (and heated) environment, Mr. Fallon’s own business roadmap remains relatively succinct: “Our strategy is focused on creating differentiated value for our customers as they transform their networks to address the opportunities of emerging services like 5G, DAA, and cloud-based business services. We believe the key to this transformation is highly scalable, self-optimizing networks that adapt to the demand of users and applications – everywhere, always, and instantly.”
He says that Infinera is bringing greater scale, a broader solutions portfolio, and unique technology differentiation to the market. As such it is “perfectly positioned” to help customers at this industry inflection point. He continues: “Our differentiation includes industry-leading optical performance enabled by our unique vertically integrated technology, Tier 1-proven automation capabilities, game-changing innovation at the network edge with our disaggregated router architecture, and an unwavering commitment to what ‘open’ means.”
Infinera has seen a slew of recent achievements that could signal what all this represents. These include a 600Gbps transmission record reached in one European service provider network, a major upgrade in Asia-Pacific by Telstra of its subsea fiber network that will see effective capacity increases of 160 percent, and collaboration between Telia Carrier and Infinera demonstrating autonomous intelligent transponder technology as a key stage in making networks autonomously adapt to changing conditions.
A New Wave?
Still, ongoing market conditions and prospects matter. Tom Fallon is no stranger or distant observer to corporate evolution in this charged environment. With a track record of 15 years in various roles at Infinera, he can also look at substantial roles – particularly in engineering and manufacturing operations – at Cisco, Sun Microsystems, and Hewlett Packard. With an experienced, pragmatic eye in developing and managing market-facing technology over several cycles, he argues the current market looks “solid” rather than overblown, especially in terms of what is coming next. He predicts, rather, that the industry is about to enter the next wave of spending on optical infrastructures characterized by two themes: bringing more intelligent capacity to the network edge for new access solutions and general capacity expansion that interconnects an increasingly data center-centric networked model.
All of this means technology development, a lot of technology development. Associated with these are innovations such as “Instant Bandwidth,” Auto-Tuning, and disaggregated routing that will enable this network transformation. Across individual sectors, he can tick off areas of particular excitement: compact modular system builds, the subsea sector where active participation by ICPs is driving new cable deployments, and in fiber deep where new 5G and DAA architectures are being deployed. He is enthusiastic about the edge too: “We also see a tremendous opportunity for disruption with our disaggregated IP solution in the edge router market where we are well positioned with years of field proven software.”
He argues some requirements across the board such as reliability, scalability, security, and power efficiency will be common core customer demands. Beyond these, different sectors will, he predicts, emphasize different feature sets. Supplier transformation in key business functions is also involved. He suggests customers will look to vendors to deliver supply assurance as a strategic necessity. “With our vertically integrated approach, we have more control of our supply chain than anyone in the industry,” he adds. Overall, he maintains, the fundamental business challenge is “to stay ahead of relentless and unpredictable bandwidth growth while driving down cost per bit through advances in coherent optical transmission.”
Getting the economics right means understanding the fundamental business issues of service provision. He says the Infinera optical engine portfolio structurally drives down cost while uniquely providing “Instant Bandwidth,” enabling customers to flexibly respond to demand while matching revenue with cost. Lower cost per bit and lowest Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) are important at the edge as well, but in this sector, there are heightened requirements for service agility, IP and application-aware switching capabilities, and multi-layer network automation.
A Transformational Arm’s Race?
Service provider economics is clearly a key focus in Tom Fallon’s vision. But there are many questions that this technology explosion poses. Is there an arm’s race between suppliers? Can customers really be expected to absorb so much expanded capability? He mulls the questions but argues: “This is where innovation becomes key.” He continues: “There is absolutely an arm’s race within the supplier community to deliver lower dollar and watt per bit of transmission. As bandwidth continues to grow in an unbounded direction, this is table stakes. Infinera continues to invest significantly in the three areas core to leadership here: Baud rate (optical), modulation (DSP), and integration.”
“These, on their own, are insufficient. It is really a matter of developing innovative and automated solutions on top of this core technology that enables the network capabilities that customers need. Higher capacity transmission speeds that are easier to deploy and manage are important dimensions of innovation in networking.”
Clearly, service providers themselves need to focus on digital transformation, according to many experts. Indeed, this has been a subject of frequent commentary particularly at the Tier 1 level with some experts pointing out it is now urgent. Mr. Fallon says he is optimistic: “I believe the Tier 1s who take digital transformation seriously, and embark on it comprehensively, are the ones that will be best positioned to reap the business benefits that a rapidly changing digital world offers.” He comments: “[I see] there is clear commitment to modernize their infrastructure for a digital transformation.”
Open Networks Mean Innovative Approaches
But his thought process goes further still in terms of industry evolution. Fundamentally, he believes these network transformation trends at continuously improved economics will trigger more innovation: “We’re at the forefront of an era of open networking, which means accelerated innovation. I think we are going to see significantly increased innovation in how network operators use, operate, and automate their networks, which will result in new expectations and options for end-users. I believe these trends favor innovators.”
In the meantime, from here, he has some predictions: “I believe you’re going to see more operators introduce router disaggregation at the network edge to address emerging 5G and DAA requirements. We will also see the trend toward compact modular solutions accelerate in both metro- and long-haul sectors as the need for service delivery efficiency continues to drive network architectures.” He also predicts, “The first significant deployments of 600G and 800G and a much more practical approach to automation than we’ve seen to date – with operators shifting away from monolithic orchestrators to solve all problems and toward application-optimized approaches with SDN and automation.”
He looks to create an environment where enabling customers to win matters. But alongside embracing the company heritage, and forming teams of lasting benefit, he says he has an intriguing demand: “I want staff to deliver disruption and not convention … I want every employee to take pride in our vision: enabling an Infinite Network that can provide unlimited services to everyone, everywhere, instantly.”