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Infinera’s XTM Series – Hitting the Ball out of the Park in 2020

headshot of Bjorn Adersson

February 24, 2021
By Björn Andersson
Managing Director, Metro Business Group

The right product, the right time, and the right team

I’m sure I’m not the first person to state this, but 2020 was a turbulent year for everyone, with challenges that nobody envisaged at the start of the year. For those of us in the telecoms industry, we saw our products and services becoming critical communications enablers as all aspects of our daily lives moved from face-to-face encounters to the virtual online world.

Those of us within the vendor community saw an increase in demand for our products and services at the same time as we ourselves had to reinvent the way we worked. We had to continue to develop our products and support our customers through turbulent times as we all adapted to new work environments and virtual engagements with customers and partners.

Against this background, we were excited to see growing interest from customers in our XTM Series transport platform that resulted in a record-breaking year for this industry-leading metro solution. As our CEO David Heard highlighted in our recent year-end earnings call, we achieved 20% year-over-year growth in our XTM Series – solid results and momentum that marked the second year running of similar rates of growth.

This growth was driven by a broad range of applications, ranging from 5G rollouts in mobile operators’ networks to bespoke enterprise networks, as well as from a combination of growth in business with existing customers and some exciting new customer wins. On that front, we added 28 new customers in 2020 from all regions – the Americas, Asia-Pacific, and EMEA. This success is driven by our own direct sales team and also our extensive network of Infinera partners, so I thank them all for their excellent contributions to our 2020 XTM Series results.

So, you might wonder what is driving this growth in XTM Series business within metro DWDM networks. In my opinion this comes down to three key factors all pulling together positively for the business:

Right Product

Metro access and aggregation and regional networks are complex and hugely varied, with support for a very broad range of end applications, service/protocol types, network topologies, capacity demands, and installation types (whether standard telco environment or hardened for street cabinet deployments). As such, we need to drive advanced functionality and considerable flexibility into the XTM Series to ensure it can meet this broad range of demands economically and with the right performance. Examples that have been driving our business in 2020 include:

  • Pluggable coherent DWDM at 100G/200G and very soon 400G – 100G- and 200G-based transport has become the norm in high-capacity metro links. Often this also includes pushing coherent DWDM right out into the access network, requiring temperature hardening of the hardware and optics. We’ve seen rapid growth in this space, with substantial volumes of coherent 100G/200G optics shipping in the year and lots of interest in the upcoming release of our new 400G Flexponder with 400G pluggable optics.
  • Autotuneable optics – At the edge of the network, we’ve seen a lot of interest in and traction with our Auto-Lambda optics, which self-tune to the required wavelength and can be hosted directly in third-party devices such as routers. Multiple applications are driving the adoption of this innovative technology, including enterprise networks, optical line terminal (OLT) backhaul in residential networks, and 5G. The key driver behind many of these projects is the ability to bring tuneable DWDM optics into third-party devices that were designed for grey optics to enable network capacity upgrades without the need to replace these third-party devices. As this is a solution sale and not just pluggable optics modules, these projects also drive additional optical and packet optical business.
  • 5G xHaul – Network operators starting to prepare for Phase 2 5G services and centralized/cloud RAN architectures are now starting to roll out xHaul-capable networks, which is driving adoption of platforms such as our EMXP-XH800, which supports both backhaul and midhaul requirements and the advanced functionality needed in 5G fronthaul. It’s worth noting that we are also gaining considerable traction with the EMXP-XH800 beyond 5G where high-density packet optical switching with 100G/200G coherent optics is required, especially in fiber-deep applications where temperature hardening is a further consideration.
  • 5G synchronization – Another factor driving XTM Series success in 5G transport networks is synchronization performance. As operators really get into the deep details of planning 5G rollouts, they are understanding the critical importance of managing their tight synchronization budgets, and this is giving us a clear edge in the space.
  • Bandwidth, bandwidth, and more bandwidth – Beyond the applications I’ve outlined above, we are simply seeing lots of capacity growth, which is driving continued network expansion in our customer base and many other new projects with our new customers. This is partially driven by COVID-related work-from-home bandwidth moves, but also by the relentless rise in overall network bandwidth. This is driving strong growth in both Layer 1 and packet optical networks, and this shows no sign of slowing.

Right Time

Is there ever a perfect time to be in networking? That’s a hard question to answer, but now is a very good time to be involved in transport networks if you have a competitive product.

As I’ve outlined above, we have some key industry trends, such as 5G, that are positively driving metro business right now, and these should continue to be good drivers going forward. In addition, we have the growing trend toward open optical networking, which was a factor in 2020 and will be a major industry trend over the next few years. The move to open is driving the selection of XTM Series transponders over third-party line systems and driving a move to hybrid solutions where we combine platforms into a single solution for customers, such as running GX Series G30 600G wavelengths over flexible grid-enabled XTM Series optical layer deployments. Open optical networking is certainly an interesting trend to watch as optical networks evolve. So overall, I believe we have the right product for the right time in the metro optical market.

Right Team

Of course, the most important aspect of this success is the people, the team, who have enabled this. This naturally includes our internal team from sales, support/services, operations, and R&D functions, but also the broader team including our reseller partners, component suppliers, and customers, all of whom have performed fantastically as the world went into lockdowns to keep the ultimate end customers connected during the pandemic.

These teams, and in fact I think the whole of our industry, including our competitors, did a fantastic job in keeping communications networks running during 2020. Together we have made the world a better place in a very challenging year, all while changing our own ways of working to keep our own teams safe.

As we move into 2021, the Infinera team is looking forward to another good year for the XTM Series. We have an interesting roadmap of developments underway that continue to support the trends I’ve discussed. This includes pluggable optics-based 400G coming to market very soon and further enhancements to our existing flexible grid capabilities, more products and features to help DWDM push deeper into access networks, and more interoperability with our new GX Series portfolio.

From my perspective it is certainly an exciting time to be in optical networking, especially in metro access and aggregation networks. With the right product at the right time and the right team supporting our metro business, I’m thankful for great results in 2020 and looking forward to an exciting 2021!