An interview with Brian Lavallée, Senior Director of Solutions Marketing for Ciena

Editor’s Note: The submarine fiber optics market is advancing at a mind-boggling rate.  As we’ve noted in our reports, the market shows no signs of slowing in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic and may have accelerated due to the increased demand for remote services.  But the market has been strong since well before the pandemic and 2021 could be a record-breaking year with regard to new submarine cable system development. 

With this backdrop, SubCableWorld had the pleasure to speak with Brian Lavallée, Senior Director of Solutions Marketing for Ciena, who gives us an update on where the market stands in 2021 and how new technological developments will shape what customers want going forward. 

Brian Lavallée: We’re seeing a healthy deployment of new cable systems along with capacity upgrades.  The Internet Content Providers (ICPs) have announced a bunch of new cable systems, including Google’s Equiano, Facebook’s 2Africa, and many others.  That’s good news for everybody in the industry.  It means more capacity and more people using cloud services.  Some of that has to do with the increasing demand for people working, playing and entertaining from home, but we were seeing roughly 40% CAGR in all quarters around the world pre-pandemic anyway.  We’ll see if the spike in growth from the pandemic remains when people start going back to work and school, but the healthy demand for bandwidth was already there. 

Ciena introduced our WaveLogic 5 Extreme in April 2020.  We’ve already shipped over 20,000 units to over 100 customers.  It’s a very mature and field-proven technology used overland and undersea.  Obviously, it’s tweaked for optimal submarine cable network performance.  From our perspective, that’s our contribution to the capacity upgrades that are necessary for traditional cables, compensated or uncompensated, open or closed, and even the next-generation SDM cables. 

As an example of this, we can point to a number of major wins that we’ve announced recently.  In late September, Telxius announced that our GeoMesh Extreme submarine networking solution, which leverages WaveLogic 5 Extreme coherent optics, had been deployed on its international submarine cables.  A couple of weeks before that, Crosslake Fibre also chose Ciena’s GeoMesh Extreme solution, powered by WaveLogic 5 Extreme, on its CrossChannel Fibre cable system between France and the United Kingdom.  And, we doubled the capacity on Djibouti Telecom’s DARE1 submarine cable that we announced in August, also leveraging GeoMesh Extreme.

Regarding some of the news that gets a lot of coverage, Spatial Division Multiplexing (SDM) is a hot topic right now, but it’s not really new, because as soon as you have more than one fiber pair, you’re actually multiplexing across “space”. SDM cables tends to be less capacity per fiber pair but given a much higher number of fiber pairs, the overall aggregate cable capacity is unprecedented. We’re at 16 and 24 fiber pairs and depending on how optimistic you are, people are already talking about 48 and 64 pairs.  We’ll see in the end how high we can and will go. 

The introduction of new and active branching units will provide increased traffic management agility. This type of agility has been available for many years using ROADMs, which is now being adopted and adapted to submarine cable systems. And being programmable, they’ll allow for analytics-driven software control and automation to be implemented, which is a big leap forward when compared to traditional passive branching units.  If you look at a cable system like 2Africa, which is circumnavigating Africa and landing in 30 countries, active branching units are something that could provide a lot more flexibility to re-route traffic in case of a cable cut.

We have been promoting programmable infrastructure, analytics and intelligent software control and automation for quite a while.  That’s our Adaptive Network vision.  We’ve been promoting that across terrestrial networks, data center networks, and submarine networks.  And if you think about it, a lot of the content providers that are building cables also have massive data center assets.  They’ve been using, and in some cases invented, analytics-driven automation and software-driven control technologies used inside the data center, so why not use these technologies over terrestrial and submarine networks too?

The pandemic has changed a little bit of the focus.  We talk about the maximization of asset utilization quite often.  That’s even more important when you can’t get easy installation crews out into the field to start deploying new physical equipment, such as SLTE modems, because of travel restrictions.  With GeoMesh Extreme programmable network infrastructure, we’re able to do this all remotely by implementing the Adaptive Network vision.  If a cable has sufficient end-of-life margin, you can even spin up bandwidth on existing modems to a higher data rate to serve that peak demand.  Then when people get to travel a bit more, you spin that capacity down, get your end-of-life margin back, then you can physically swap in new cards.  Remote automation is one of the hottest topics right now.  We see that in our discussions with our customers.  I think that’s going to continue well after the pandemic subsides.