Ribbon zeros in on metro fiber networks

optical network
The CEO noted the company was also taking a “different approach” to silicon than more vertically integrated competitors. (shulz via Getty Images)

Ribbon Communications CEO Bruce McClelland in 2020 laid out an ambitious agenda to raise the company’s profile in telecom after it acquired networking assets from ECI Telecom Group in late 2019. A year later the executive shared a more refined vision of its strategy, telling Fierce that unlike some of its larger competitors it doesn’t see a need to chase 800G in the short term.

While Ribbon was historically known for voice-over-LTE and unified communications products, its deal with ECI expanded its horizons to include optical transport systems, as well as software-defined networking and network functions virtualization technologies.

McClelland said there’s “about $15 billion per year spent on optical networking,” spanning data center connections, operator networks and fiber for critical infrastructure providers including railways and oil and gas companies. Ribbon, he said, is aiming to tackle just a “portion of that.”

“We’re not trying to address the entire market. As a smaller company, you really have to focus,” he said, adding “our expertise is really around metro networks.”

RELATED: Ribbon CEO Bruce McClelland has big aspirations

While 800G is key “when you’re connecting two data centers together point-to-point,” McClelland noted “in the portion of the network where we’re focused, this metro portion, being at the bleeding edge of 800G or 1 terabit is really not relevant. What customers are looking for is really high performance, good cost structure around 100-gig, 200-gig, 400-gig type connections.”

Silicon

The CEO noted the company was also taking a “different approach” to silicon than more vertically integrated competitors who invest in building their own system-on-chips.

“We’re working with commercial silicon and really trying to provide a much more open architecture, more interoperability between vendors,” he explained. “These systems have been very closed for a long period of time, and we’re trying to be more disruptive, trying to open up the network architectures, both from a software perspective and from an interface or hardware perspective as well.”

RELATED: Gartner targets chip supply normalcy by 2Q22

Thus far, McClelland said Ribbon has weathered an ongoing global chip shortage fairly well, in part because software-oriented solutions comprise a “large portion” of its business. But he acknowledged “it’s definitely a factor,” adding “at the end of the day you’ve got to plan much further out. Lead times have gone from 24 weeks, 26 weeks up to 50 weeks or beyond…we’re working closely with the customers to understand their demand and plan much further out. It just takes a lot more effort, for sure.”

Gartner recently tipped the chip market to return to normal by Q2 2022.