The Impacts of Open Optical Systems - Now and In the Future

Openness is a model that drives flexibility and automation up while bringing prices down.

We can envision an environment where all similar elements respond to a well-known set of commands and parameters, and where machine intelligence can be applied to enhance the speed of response to changing traffic conditions. Openness holds the promise of an environment where software applications manage, monitor and provision elements across the network regardless of the manufacturer.


The downside to the open optical systems model is that it may inhibit the creation of new and innovative features. In this more homogenous environment, incremental and evolutionary refinements are driven quickly into the network, as each vendor is competing for market share with a similar product. In effect, common problems are “crowdsourced” and resolved quickly across the market. This is a huge plus for operators.

The caveat? Product differentiation becomes trickier. Deploying revolutionary “leaps” in performance are challenging when constrained by existing standards. IHS Markit finds that the “loss of spectral efficiency gains, system integration and maintenance, lack of operational tools to manage disaggregated networks and slow or disparate standards development,” is a concern to network operators. Open systems allow for a more granular product development, speeding development cycles. But the “compartmentalization” of functionality could constrain improvements (breakthroughs) that require changes to multiple elements and changes or additions to configuration parameters. And the lack of standardized management today is limiting the development of truly multi-vendor, network-wide management systems.

Standardization is generally a good thing for customers. Openness is a model that drives flexibility and automation up while bringing prices down. But by eliminating vendors’ “innovation margin” from product prices, the model minimizes their ability to perform fundamental research, develop new technology, and drive change into the market while getting a satisfactory return on investment.

With all the cards laid out on the table, where does the “openness” go from here?

“Oh, the Places You’ll Go”

To date, we have seen little prospect for industry-wide adoption of “openness” in optical systems. Mega players, like the Internet Content Providers, have enough market leverage to drive some level of standardization into products, but few manufacturers have made a business case for developing a completely standards-based product. It is hopeful to believe that, with enough customer pressure, the vendors will provide hardware which has a base level of standardized functionality and standardized interfaces for accessing that functionality.

By creating a basic level of functionality, core and common functions can be automated. Software applications can handle repetitive operational tasks, allowing for operators to focus on more productive efforts, like implementing new and innovative functions and more quickly adapting to network conditions. This allows for the creation of the kind of network adaptability required to support 5G, IoT, and other new network trends.

With standardized core functionality, vendors will be free to create innovative implementations for those standards. Those core functions and elements may be commoditized, with competition in this part of the market focusing on costs. But this allows manufacturers to focus investment on more difficult network tasks—extensions (new functions and elements) that provide additional functionality. At LightRiver, we implement the 80/20 rule. By this we mean automate and standardize the 80 percent of common functionality, allowing manufacturers to focus their product investments on the 20 percent of leading edge capabilities. This may actually accelerate the development of new network technologies (and coincident with this, the profitability for manufacturers).

Finally, the development of more consistent interfaces allows for creative re-use of the devices. With chunks of functionality available, without need to consider implementation details, network operators are free to “wire-together” network elements in new and unusual ways.

Historically, “open” developments often meet resistance from the entrenched leaders at first, but are then accepted and embraced as both consumer and creators of product realize that focus on consistency, compatibility and interoperability benefits everyone. It appears that the telecommunications market is at an inflection point, with standardization and interoperability just beginning to unlock the power of software automation and allowing the technical creative forces to focus on advanced functionalities that are required to drive the next leap in communications capabilities.


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