Ribbon preps for the future of optical transport with 5G features

5G blue lines
Ribbon teamed up with Xilinx to develop network slicing capabilities. (Getty Images)

Ribbon Communications is hoping to stand out from the pack as communications service providers around the globe upgrade their transport networks, with CEO Bruce McClelland pitching its products as the future-proof option for those pursuing 5G deployments.

McClelland told Fierce Ribbon’s products are largely agnostic, meaning they can be used to provide optical transport for both wireline and wireless networks. But he noted 5G applications require a bit of special sauce, pointing out that low latency and network slicing requirements for next generation radio access networks also apply to the optical transport and IP layers of the network.

“We’ve built in some additional capabilities into the product that are specifically aimed at 5G mobile networks to be able to basically slice the network and be able to create virtual networks over top of the physical network. And so we think we’ve done a pretty special platform that’s very kind of future-proofed around the deployment of 5G,” he explained.

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Ribbon revealed work with Xilinx on 5G slicing capabilities in September 2020. At the time, Xilinx VP of Sales for North America and Europe Safy Fishov said in a statement their joint solution would “support new 5G use and business cases including network sharing, private networks slices and new mobile-based services online for gaming and eHealth.”

McClelland acknowledged such advanced capabilities aren’t “being used in commercial deployments at wide scale today” and “most of what’s going into 5G is simply upgrading capacity for the current network.” But for operators which are in the process of upgrading their optical network with an eye toward the future, such features “have almost become a requirement at this point or at least a roadmap commitment.”

“One of our best markets, in India, with the large operators there like Bharti Airtel and Vodafone, we’re widely deployed in those networks and it was a really important attribute in selecting us into those networks,” he said.

Optical evolution

McClelland also addressed other expected changes in optical transport, agreeing with recent comments from Cisco executives that ZR pluggables will enable convergence between the optical and IP layers.  

RELATED: Cisco highlights how ZR pluggables are changing optical architecture

However, the CEO suggested the evolution won’t happen quite the way Cisco described. “The  idea that the optical layer just disappears and everything becomes an IP-based routed network, I don’t think that’s really reality…but we are really excited about where these ZR, ZR+ technologies go.”