An Interview with Ciena’s Brian Lavallée

Editor’s Note: The year 2020 will be remembered for the global disruption of what had become normal life by the COVID-19 pandemic.  For the submarine networking market, however, we saw little disruption in the general course that the market has been on since the current boom period began in 2014.  New cable systems became ready for service, supply contracts were awarded, and additional projects added to the pipeline at about the same pace we’ve seen in recent years.  One area that may have actually moved faster than normal in 2020, however, was the pace of the technological development that allows submarine systems to operate at previously unheard-of capacities. 

Ciena Corporation is one of the leading suppliers of optical networking hardware and software solutions for the submarine networking industry.  During 2020, the company began shipping its WaveLogic 5 Extreme coherent optical technology.  By the end of October, more than 65 customers were using the solution with over 5,000 coherent optical modems already shipped for network applications, overland and undersea.

SubCableWorld recently had the pleasure to speak with Brian Lavallée, Senior Director of Solutions Marketing with global responsibility for Ciena's Submarine Network solutions.  Brian talked about the insatiable demand for submarine network bandwidth and the impact of WaveLogic 5 Extreme on the market.

Brian Lavallée: “We’re seeing constant growth from all of our customers.  Depending on the region and the customer, they’re operating at different growth rates, but it’s pretty consistent.  There’s not a single submarine cable operator that we talk to that has not recently upgraded or isn’t looking to do so in the future. 

What we have seen with COVID-19 is that network operators are running their networks hotter, meaning they are running them closer to full capacity.  They always have some spare capacity in case of spikes, this year was obviously an unplanned one, but most networks, terrestrial as well, were able to cope in the first few months of the pandemic with the networks they already had.  They just ran them closer to full capacity.  As the year progress, with that increase in capacity, they wanted to have that buffer returned, so they started to add more capacity when and where possible. 

That’s why the Internet in many areas was bending, but never broke.  There were no major outages due to too many people using the networks.  There were some cases, where providers were asked to scale down their capacity – such as Netflix and YouTube in Europe – to help cope with surging demands. 

WaveLogic 5 Extreme has a lot of new technologies built into it.  When you can go across the Atlantic at 300-350 Gbps per wavelength, there’s a lot of technologies involved.  There’s new constellation, intelligence, DSP, forward error correction, new optoelectronics, software, etc.  There are a lot of things that go into that.  What WaveLogic 5 Extreme does is that it leverages all of these technologies as a whole and it allows operators to not only increase the channel rate per wavelength, but it also allows them to do so using less transponders.  That not only gives you scale capacity, but you can do so with less transponders which results in a lower overall cost per bit alongside a reduction in power, space, and complexity. 

There is a significant price competition on some of these submarine cable routes, so as you’re turning up new bandwidth to cope with that bandwidth demand, you have to make sure that the cost per bit is actually going down at the same time.  That’s what WaveLogic 5 Extreme does.  It allows you to increase spectral efficiency so you can stream more bits through your submarine cable that’s already at the bottom of the ocean, because once it’s there, there’s not really much you can do, so the only place to innovate that you have is the terminal sitting on land feeding into that submarine cable wet plant. 

WaveLogic 5 Extreme gives you more capacity, on the same submarine cable with lower cost per bit and it also takes lower power and space because every generation of technology reduces the power consumption so the watt per bit goes down and also the space as well because you’re using fewer cards to do more bandwidth.  So, there’s many benefits to the technology.  That’s why it’s been deployed across a number of regions around the world.  It’s real.  It’s been shipping.  It’s in customer deployments in production networks carrying live traffic all over the world, overland and undersea.”