Telia Carrier says Facebook’s TIP shows promise, but questions about open optical networks remain

LOS ANGELES—Telia Carrier, a wholesale provider, is confident that its participation in the Telecom Infra Project (TIP) with Facebook will show that a multivendor, open optical network could one day be a reality.

Earlier this month, Telia Carrier completed its trial in the TIP, testing 100G and 200G using Voyager gear on its 1,089-kilometer Stockholm-to-Hamburg route in Europe.

During the trial, Telia Carrier leveraged technology developed by Coriant, one of its two optical networking suppliers.

RELATED: Telia Carrier lights another low-latency West Coast route to connect Bay Area with Hollywood

One of the key takeaways from the trial was that it proved that 16 QAM can work effectively over long distances. Facebook has contributed Voyager, a “white box” transponder and routing solution that will be made available to those in the TIP. 

Mattias Fridström, chief evangelist for Telia Carrier, told FierceTelecom that unlike a previous trial it conducted with Coriant and Ciena which took several months to get right, the Facebook trial was a bit more seamless.

“Both of them said everything is so standardized, but it took us four months to make it work and we learned a lot of things,” Fridström said. “Facebook was after a very long distance and they wanted to test in a live network where we have loads of live traffic along that route.”

Fridström said that the next issue to overcome is how much in-house optical networking knowledge it needs. While Telia Carrier can turn to Infinera or Coriant in the event it has an optical network issue, the service provider realized it needs to bulk up its optical knowledge to solve issues by itself.  

“You can always lean a lot on the vendors whenever something happens or you want to fine-tune something, you can ask them,” Fridström said. “In this case, we realize if we’re going to bring three or five vendors into the same network maybe we need to have optical skills.”

Fridström added that as it implements more open-networking concepts in its optical network, Telia Carrier is concerned that its vendor partners could point fingers if a network element fails.

“Many people think if you have the equipment that should be good enough, but if we’re going to have three or four vendors in the network, we need to have control of that,” Fridström said. “I am pretty sure whenever something happens it’s not that I believe they will blame things on the others, but it could happen.”  

Decoupling trend emerging

Telia Carrier’s successful work on the Voyager network also highlights the emerging optical networking equipment decoupling trend.

Leveraging new concepts like Optical Line Services (OLS) and optical disaggregation, an optical vendor can break down its optical equipment into its elemental functions—a concept that can offer several variations. In one configuration, an optical vendor could separate transponders/modems from the line equipment such as a ROADM or amplifier.  

Service providers that opt for this route would need interoperability between the different equipment types. The benefit of such an approach is that service providers won’t be locked into one equipment vendor. Additionally, it will offer more flexibility in equipment upgrade cycles, and reduce overall capex costs.

Despite the promise that new innovations like open line systems (OLS) and optical disaggregation have, decoupling the optical network won’t be without its challenges.

Fridström said that while he can see an immediate case to disaggregate optical transponders, the rest is more concerning.

“Decoupling the transponders is a given, but decoupling the other things I am a bit more afraid of,” Fridström said. “You should really build a whole line system, including amplifiers, but starting to mix amplifiers could be tricky.”

Early days

Fridström’s concerns about optical disaggregation aren’t unfounded.

A recent IHS Markit study revealed that while one-third of survey respondents said they are considering the use of OLS in their networks, half said they are undecided or are not familiar with the technology.

IHS Markit added that among respondents who are considering or undecided about the use of OLS in their networks are planning to deploy the approach in 2016 or 2017, nearly 60% will not deploy until 2018 or later. Nearly a third of the respondents do not know when, or if, they will deploy OLS.

Having seen success with the Facebook Voyager trial, Fridström said that these configurations have promise.

“The tests showed that these worked really well,” Fridström said. “I think next time maybe we should test two different vendors at the same time where we have a transponder from one vendor and another and putting them in another vendor’s box.”

The more immediate challenge for service providers like Telia Carrier is getting a grip on how these concepts can be part of their day-to-day operations.

“What I am a bit afraid of is the operational side,” Fridström said. “Today when we have a problem in the U.S. it can only be Infinera [available to help], and tomorrow who do we call? Or do we have our own people?”