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It’s That Time of Year Again…

Jon Baldry

November 21, 2022
By Jon Baldry
Director, Metro Networking

…to Get in Sync with the Timing and Sync Community

Early November sees the annual gathering of the timing and network synchronization industry at the International Timing & Sync Forum (ITSF) event, which this year was held in Düsseldorf and saw record attendance for any ITSF event. For those that don’t know, ITSF is the largest industry event focusing on timing and sync, attracting end-user attendees including telecoms network operators, data center owners, power utilities, government agencies, and many more. From the supply side, the event brings together all members of the supply chain, from sync component and systems/solutions vendors to companies such as Infinera with sync-over-optical transport network offerings.

It was great to see the conference continue to grow and to exceed pre-pandemic attendance levels when many other tradeshows have restarted as live events but have yet to get close to their previous pre-pandemic levels of attendance. ITSF is of course a much smaller and more highly focused event than many of the broader events that Infinera attends, such as MWC, OFC, and ECOC. But the event drew in over 300 attendees, up 20% from the 2019 and 2021 live events, and attracted 36 sponsoring companies. This growth is evidence of the increasing importance of high-performance timing and synchronization within telecoms and datacoms networks.

From the content point of view, one of the most interesting aspects to me was the continued growth in the level of discussion around the vulnerabilities of global navigation satellite system (GNSS)-based timing and sync and the need for network-based sync distribution to either replace widespread use of GNSS at all network nodes or serve as a backup mechanism for GNSS-based sync. Of course, network-based timing and sync distribution doesn’t totally replace GNSS-based options; it still relies on a smaller number of highly resilient GNSS nodes with atomic clock backup and distributes sync from these locations to all other network nodes. Multiple network operator and vendor speakers addressed this topic throughout the conference. This reflects the increased activity in this space that we see in our day-to-day business, with increasing customer interaction around our sync distribution-over-DWDM capabilities, which in turn is leading to more trials and deployments. You may have seen our most recent announcement in this space from September, when we announced an OTC2.0 timing channel deployment with Viettel in Vietnam.

Overall, the conference had over 80 presentations and poster presentations, which is a heck of a lot of information to try and absorb! I gave a presentation that provided a deep dive investigation into the challenges of sync over DWDM networks. This presentation built on my 2021 presentation that outlined a new timing cloud architecture that can build on high-performance sync distribution over DWDM to make all network nodes act as if they are a virtual primary reference timing clock (vPRTC) with sub-100-ns timing error performance. For those that don’t know the specifics of timing error budgets in transport networks, that is a very high level of performance! In that 2021 presentation, I highlighted some of the DWDM-related challenges that needed to be overcome in order to deliver this high level of performance, which generated lots of questions from the audience. This led to the idea of specifically diving deeper into this topic in the 2022 presentation to give more clarity on these details.

Unlike a lot of other industry events, the speaking slots at ITSF are not pay-to-play and linked to sponsorship packages – all presentations must be applied for, reviewed by the steering committee, and hopefully then selected. The committee did an excellent job selecting the presentations for the session that I supported. We kicked off with Professor Andy Sutton from BT outlining RAN architecture evolution and the implications of this on sync requirements. This was followed by Jeremy Thomas from Oscilloquartz, who outlined some of the challenges and vulnerabilities of totally relying on GNSS-based sync. Adam Paterson from Calnex then started discussing some of the sync challenges with some optics components, and I then dived in deeper into the topic and took a look at the DWDM transport network as a whole. Overall, the four presentations tied together very nicely and were well received by the audience. If anyone is interested in learning more about these challenges and the techniques used to address them, then take a look at the recent Infinera sync e-book.

Infinera was also selected as part of the poster session, where we outlined some of the learnings from another nationwide deployment of the timing cloud architecture. This network is currently being rolled out across a European country and brings the timing cloud architecture to a new high-capacity DWDM network. The poster outlined some of the specific challenges that we needed to overcome when designing the OTC2.0 timing channel aspects of the network design and the resulting timing cloud architecture with the sub-100-ns vPRTC performance at each network node.

In summary, it was another great event for those with a deep interest in timing and synchronization, so thanks to the event organizers Executive Industry Events (EIE) and to the ITSF steering committee for delivering such a good event. It was great to see the progress the industry is making in bringing high-performance sync to telecoms networks, as well as some of the additional applications that can benefit from the technology, such as power utility networks. It was also good to spend time with industry partners such as Microchip, who are a partner in timing channel solutions, and Calnex, who provide the high-performance test equipment required to verify our solutions. I for one am hoping to see them all again at ITSF in 2023 at what is expected to be an even bigger event.