There’s a lot of hype surrounding what 5G will bring to the market. But Ciena is attempting to address some real concerns over sufficient optical wireline capacity, announcing an update to its 5G Network Solutions platform.
Brian Lavallée, senior director of solutions marketing at Ciena, said the update included three areas of investment for the company: more robust network capabilities to handle 5G traffic; the addition of IP to support 5G infrastructure; and network slicing capabilities.
Lavallée noted the updates took into account input from dozens of mobile network operators that want to continue supporting advances in 4G LTE, while also preparing for 5G.
“Many of these operators have a single wireline network deployed to support LTE, LTE-Advanced, and LTE Pro, and want to be able to put 5G support on top of that,” Lavallée said. “With the forecasts that we are seeing in terms of network demand, operators need to strengthen their wireline infrastructure.”
The first of Ciena’s three-pronged approach includes what Lavallée said were “deterministic networking capabilities” that can support 4G LTE and 5G network support. This support is through the use of digital radio transport over standards-based Ethernet.
Lavallée said this allows for the use of standards-based Ethernet to carry fronthaul and midhaul traffic. He explained that current common public radio interface (CPRI) specifications have in many deployments been weighed down with proprietary work, which limits extensibility.
“We are hoping the industry will go down the path and adopt a standards-based version of CPRI for 5G,” Lavallée said.
This component is reliant on chipsets that can support 4G LTE and 5G, which Lavallée said he thinks will begin in earnest early next year.
Focused 5G Support
Second is new IP functionality to support expected 5G use cases. This is through a router platform that is specifically designed to support 5G.
“This is not a full-blown router platform,” Lavallée explained. “We are only going to implement support for the 5G space.” This focus came from requests by customers for a router platform that could be easily tacked onto an existing 4G LTE deployment and to not duplicate established support.
“Operators told us they wanted something simple to deploy and easy to operate,” Lavallée said, noting that the company has so far not experienced any push back on the move. “In fact, it’s been the exact opposite.”
He did acknowledge that Ciena might at some point introduce a more robust router that could handle more of the 4G LTE support, or what he termed a “heavier router,” for operators that might want a “whole suite of protocols in their back pocket.”
The third component is support for programmable network slicing capabilities that allow for virtualizing network resources up to Layer 3. This would include orchestration of network slicing capabilities across the wireline network.
This move is working toward having network slicing capabilities embedded end-to-end within a network architecture. Lavallée noted this was possible in some portions of the network today using equipment from a single vendor, but that the end goal is network slicing support regardless of vendor equipment.
“That’s a pretty big ask today,” Lavallée said, noting all of Ciena’s latest updates continue to adhere to an open architecture scheme. “No one vendor can really handle all of this today, but the goal is to have equipment that can interoperate so operators can select the best of breed.”
Ciena’s updates ride on top of those rolled out late last year to some of its 5G Network Solutions platform, including aspects targeted at edge deployments.
A recent IHS Markit survey found Ciena as one of the market leaders in the carrier optical networking space. The survey of 28 service providers found Nokia and Huawei cited as being part of network deployments by 39 percent of respondents, each. Ciena was connected with 32 percent of deployments.
The survey also found Ciena topped the field in terms of reported equipment reliability, which was deemed the most important consideration in selecting a vendor by those surveyed. Thirty-seven percent of respondents said they perceived Ciena to have the highest reliability, compared with 30 percent for Infinera, and 16 percent for Fujitsu.