Geoff Bennett, director of solutions and technology at Infinera, discusses future network trends. What is the Terabit Era, when is it coming and why is it important for telcos?

Geoff Bennett: The Terabit Era describes a point where the demand for data means wholesale carriers have to regularly supply capacity through their pipes, at very short notice, at 1Tb/s and above. A number of key changes have taken place over the past decade to bring us to this point.

First, video has become the biggest single consumer of capacity in the network and network video quality keeps on increasing. Second, we now store this video data in cloud-based data centre architectures, which means it’s replicated over large geographical areas in order to provide resilience and be closer to the end users.

These trends are important for telcos because unless they have a transport network able to cope with these demands, their forecasting processes are placed under unbearable strain. Delivery times to new and existing customers starts to increase, and those customers won’t be happy. This is a competitive market, and if customers aren't happy they’ll take their business elsewhere.

How will network architectures need to change to cope with these future demands?

Network architectures have to change in three key areas. First, they need to be able to respond to Terabit scale demands at very short notice, and that’s where the adoption of dense wavelength division multiplexing (DWDM) super-channel technology has given service providers a real boost.

Second, two fundamental technologies in the transport network are converging; the DWDM transmission layer and the digital switching layer – typically the Optical Transport Network (OTN).

For many years, DWDM vendors were adamant that a transport network must use “all optical” switching. Those vendors are now seeing the errors of their ways and are trying to retro-fit switching into older DWDM devices. What would be a better solution is to start with a clean sheet of paper, and deploy a super-channel platform that is designed from scratch to include non-blocking OTN switching from day one.

When this convergence has taken place, we find that we can make progress in the third key area, whereby the network has to become intelligent. This means using a carrier grade control plane to automate network activities, improve response times and drive down operational cost.

Generalised Multi-Protocol Label Switching (GMPLS) is the most successful control plane today, and it’s an example of a distributed control plane technology. There’s a lot of interest in using a carrier grade version of the Software Defined Network (known as Transport SDN) to solve automation problems that have been challenging for GMPLS up until now.

What are the key things that operators need to do to prepare their organisations?

If the Intelligent Transport Network is now infinitely scalable and responsive, the service provider has to streamline their operational and administrative processes so that paperwork doesn’t stop them winning new business.

Our most successful customers have embraced this idea, and are able to deliver new services in days, instead of weeks or months.

How can they maintain their competitive edge?

At first glance, wholesale bandwidth services are a commodity – so the only competitive lever becomes price. This is a poor situation for the service provider because they need to achieve sustainable margins for a healthy business model. But if they can use “time as a weapon”, and deliver services more quickly than their competitors, they can avoid fighting battles on price alone.

Having said that, the service provider also needs to drive cost out of their business. The temptation is to look at the capital cost of the equipment alone. But savvy procurement organisations are now building sophisticated “total cost of ownership” financial models so they can drive even more cost out of their business.

What opportunities do you think the Terabit Era could create for operators?

This is the most difficult question of all to answer. Who would have thought a simple messaging service that limits you to 140 characters would become such a successful service? I think the most important thing about the Terabit Era is that it removes capacity constraints so that service innovation can take place without restrictions.

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