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Bingo! Winning at Buzzword Bingo with “Automation”

Jon Baldry

August 1, 2019
By Jon Baldry
Director, Metro Marketing

Halving Network CapEx through Automation and Autotuneable Optics

If anyone out there is playing buzzword bingo – keeping track of the latest buzzwords that are hot in the optical networking industry and how often they pop up in conference calls, webinars, the media, etc. – then I’m sure “automation” is a word that scores regularly at the moment.

Automation is of course a very important topic, even if the term is currently used a lot in the industry. Most people usually associate automation with sophisticated network management software or software-defined networking (SDN) management/orchestration solutions that broadly simplify the operation of large networks and have a big impact on operational expenditure (OpEx). But in my opinion, few people associate automation with something that can also have a major impact on the capital expenditure (CapEx) side of rolling out optical networks.

Why Optical Automation Is Important in Metro Access Network Architectures

New fiber deep access architectures, such as 5G in mobile networks and distributed access architecture (DAA) in cable networks, push fiber and dense wavelength-division multiplexing (DWDM) systems deeper into the access plant. This brings a range of new challenges, mainly:

  1. Dealing with the proliferation of optical access points – where do I find enough field engineers with the right skill sets to deploy DWDM to all these new locations?
  2. Coping with constrained space and power – DWDM now often needs to be deployed in locations that were never intended for complex transmission equipment.
  3. Cost – CapEx and OpEx costs are always important, but any savings in access networks are hugely amplified due to the large number of locations that can benefit from lower costs.

The optical networking industry is now bringing autotuneability to DWDM optics, essentially enabling the 10G DWDM tuneable optics used in access networks to learn their required wavelength from the network. This enables field technicians to treat these optics as if they were simple grey optics.

Due to the host-agnostic nature of these optics, the host systems also treat them as if they were grey. From an OpEx perspective, the benefits of this approach are quite obvious – field technicians installing DWDM optics to support fiber deep access networks don’t need to worry about dealing with a large amount of fixed optics or tuning tuneable optics to the specific required wavelength at a particular site. A single common autotuneable optic is deployed at every location without any configuration by the installation engineer.

As well as simplifying the installation process, autotuneable optics can also help reduce sparing costs and reduce the risk of accidental installation errors that can lead to expensive truck rolls. So far so good: lots of potential OpEx savings for those rolling out fiber deep access networks, addressing #1 and the OpEx aspect of #3 in the list above.

Addressing the CapEx Challenge

But one aspect of automation that isn’t always so immediately obvious is the additional impact that the technology can have on the CapEx cost of rolling out the network in the first place.  This stems from the point I mentioned earlier – due to the host-agnostic capabilities of autotuneable optics, we can now deploy DWDM capabilities directly into third-party host devices such as routers, cell site gateways, and Remote PHY/MAC-PHY (RPD/RMD) devices.

Essentially, any system that can support grey optics from another vendor can also support these optics, which is almost all systems. We haven’t found any yet that can’t take these optics. This means there is an opportunity to significantly cost-reduce the DWDM network as there is no longer a need for transponders that are usually used simply to convert DWDM wavelengths to grey optics at the edge of the optical network. Not only does this remove a lot of hardware from the network design, but it also reduces requirements for space and power, addressing #2 in our list above and the CapEx angle of #3. In fact, initial deployments of autotuneable optics have shown that these savings can reduce CapEx in access networks by over half!

A good example scenario is a network operator that needs to add DWDM to a router access ring, as its required capacity is now too great for the routers to simply be daisy-chained on the same 10G around a ring. These routers each need a dedicated 10G, which requires the introduction of a DWDM underlay network. The end applications vary but scaling capacity for 5G rollouts is a common example. The figure below shows traditional and new approaches for the design of a typical network of this type.


comparing traditional DWDM design with autotunable optics DWDM design


As you can see, the DWDM termination point moves from the remote transponder or switch into the SFP+ optics in the router itself, effectively turning that previously grey optic into a “zero-touch provisioning transponder on a stick.” In some cases, the optical add/drop multiplexer (OADM) shown above can be a hardened filter deployed in the street in a manhole, avoiding the need for any additional space and power in the router location.

Ensuring Nothing Is Lost

However, as with most new ways of solving an old problem, you still need to dig a little deeper to fully understand the new architecture and make sure you haven’t lost anything you needed to keep. We’ve found that while all operators love the idea of autotuneable optics, most still want to be able to manage the network and fault-find in failure scenarios.

This can be done by adding some optical monitoring capabilities, such as optical spectrum analyzers (OSAs) and optical time-domain reflectometers (OTDR), along with some additional capabilities within the management system to manage these effectively alien wavelengths. Some operators also need additional optional capabilities such as optical amplifiers or packet-optical pre-aggregation to ensure cost-effective use of router ports in the hub node.

At Infinera, we’ve recently released Auto-Lambda, our patented solution for autotuneable 10G DWDM optics. The technology has already been selected for rollout in mobile networks as operators prepare for 5G, and additional operators across the globe are evaluating the technology for a wide range of applications. Learn more about Auto-Lambda and the impact this technology could have on your network.