Communications have come a long way since Western Union took the bold step of implementing the first transcontinental electric telegraph system in October of 1861. Fast forward 160 years and optical networks across the globe are what lay the foundation for modern communications and the way we live, work and play. 

Keeping pace with today’s “new normal” customer demands for always-on, anywhere, reliable connectivity requires innovative technologies to deliver open, scalable, and programmable networks, that include next-gen coherent modems to drive down the cost of transport and reconfigurable open line systems, to be able to quickly adapt to changing customer requirements.  However, evolving towards a smarter optical network also requires leveraging advanced analytics with intelligent software automation to not only drive operational simplicity but also actionable insights based on what is happening in the network. 

As our customers evolve to more open, programmable, and automated networks they need the right analytical tools at their fingertips to be able to extract the full value of their deployed network assets across all stages of the photonic network lifecycle. Paving the path towards a smarter optical network starts with an SDN domain controller like Ciena’s Manage, Control and Plan (MCP), that lays the foundation for multi-layer, automated, lifecycle operations. Advancements in hardware and software are also required to give more control to end-users so that they can fully operationalize and realize the benefits associated with a modernized network. Let me explain further:

Hardware advancements: embedded instrumentation and real-time performance metrics

OMDIA+Optical+Network+Strategies+Survey+ResponsesIt isn’t surprising that according to Omdia’s Optical Network Strategies Survey, 75% of respondents felt that embedded instrumentation with advanced telemetry and control was important or critical to furthering the economic value of optical networks. Today’s advanced coherent modems and line systems provide new meaningful performance metrics via open APIs, giving users more visibility into the network than they ever had before. This integrated instrumentation provides in-service monitoring capabilities that are essential to help operators make more intelligent decisions.  To this end, Ciena has embedded advanced signal monitoring capabilities as part of the coherent modem DSP that provide new, real-time metrics that give insight into how much margin is available at any point in time, among other things. These performance metrics combined with the embedded system instrumentation, such as integrated bidirectional OTDRs are used to provide end-users with real-time meaningful information about what is happening in the network that is used to enable optimal system performance and network efficiencies.

Software advancements: intelligent automation and predictive analytics

Network providers want more intelligent line systems that have extensive monitoring and power setting controls that can leverage analytics with SDN control and increased automation. When you think of it, the more embedded intelligence and automation that is designed into the photonic line system, the less end user manipulation is required, which decreases the chance for human error. The result is that operators can do things faster and more efficiently than ever before, such as deploy systems faster and quickly turn up traffic in the network. Layering analytics-derived intelligence on top of SDN control takes network operations to a new level of intelligent network control.

For example, leveraging real-time, automatic measurement and calibration for optimal system performance not only during initial deployment but throughout the life of the network. The network elements themselves can now measure values and automatically calculate and set parameters – such as calculating the span distance and loss to determine the optimal amplifier power and variable optical attenuator (VOA) settings.

Putting it all together with advanced software apps

ECOC+Industry+Awards+Logo+2021The vast amount of data generated by today’s coherent modems and line systems provide important information about what is happening in the network but can make it difficult to view or interpret it in a timely manner without the appropriate analytical tools. Ciena’s Liquid Spectrum analytics apps make is easy for providers to take advantage of the hardware advancements delivered by next gen optical networks and significantly enhance day-to-day operations. Beyond delivering operational simplicity, these award-winning advanced software apps are the perfect example of combining bold hardware and software innovation to help our customers solve some key challenges they face today. Here are some specific examples:

  • With PinPoint OTDR, that leverages Optical Time-Domain Reflectometers (OTDRs) that are built into the photonic line system, providers like Bharti Airtel in India and Service Electric Cablevision in the US, can proactively monitor their fiber plant from their NOC reducing the risk of outages and accelerating repair times. Operations teams can precisely localize potential trouble spots – even over traffic carrying links - and send technicians to the exact location to fix the problem.
  • Photonic Performance Gauge provides the margin of the system even on dark sections before any wavelengths are deployed – a first in optical networking! This unprecedented visibility into line system performance means that operators can easily localize spans that are large noise contributors. Why is this valuable? With this insight, operators can improve performance, and therefore, capacity, by performing maintenance at these locations to fix the problem. Additionally, now it is possible for operators to proactively detect silent failures on restoration paths – which is a current blind spot in the network.


  • With Liquid Restoration, providers benefit from flexible photonic restoration where the working path does not need to match the restoration path, which allows users to maximize throughput during normal working conditions. For providers like Spark this provides a more efficient and resilient network that can adapt to customer needs and quickly respond to potential network faults by re-routing traffic as needed based on available network resources.
  • Channel Margin Gauge (CMG) provides an easy-to-read snapshot of the SNR margin for the active wavelengths in the network, across any open line system. Marcatel is using it to gain real-time visibility into channel performance and valuable insight into optimal programmable capacity, ensuring the most efficient use of network resources. For international network service provider Crosslake Fibre, the CMG app allows them to allocate and scale capacity in real-time from 600Gbps to 800Gbps with Ciena’s WaveLogic 5 Extreme-powered transponders, as shown in this example:


By combining bold hardware and software innovations, operators can use CMG to turn-up capacity on-demand by temporarily borrowing margin available for a WL5e-powered upgrade candidate channel.

What’s next?

As providers continue their network evolution journey, advanced software tools that leverage network analytics and intelligent software automation are required to drive actionable insights based on the current state of the network. Ciena’s Liquid Spectrum apps are helping providers address their optical networking challenges with new levels of control and monitoring so that they can do things like quickly respond to new service demands and get an accurate view into the efficiency of the network at any point in time, to make smarter decisions on how and where they will add capacity. And it doesn’t end there.

With Liquid Spectrum, delivering a practical near-zero margin network to improve the economic viability of future optical networks may be sooner than one may think. And with MCP Applications across L0 to L3, operators can benefit from multi-layer operations with intelligent network control and automation moving forward – to fully operationalize and gain the benefits associated with a modernized network.

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