Verizon's Hicks: One Fiber to rule them all

Verizon has been a big proponent of fiber ever since the launch of Fios in 2004, but fiber will play an even bigger role for the telco going forward.

As one of the keynote speakers earlier this week at the Adtran Connect conference in Huntsville, Alabama, Verizon's Lee Hicks spoke about the need to have more fiber and fiber equipment installed deep into its network.

"We are dramatically expanding our fiber equipment in support primarily of C-RAN and densification for wireless, 5G is going to require deep fiber, but as well as for our wireline access," said Hicks, vice president of network planning for Verizon. "To have fiber deep in the network is clearly the way to go."

"Recently at Verizon we started a program that we call One Fiber. It's not rocket science, but for us, it was big. The idea was that we were going to take all of our different business units—whether it's a wireless business unit or wireline business units—and we were going to plan for our fiber needs as one. Like, 'Good idea,' right? But believe us, for us, this was a big thing to do."

Hicks said Verizon is going through the effort of bundling all of the fiber assets it had built with Fios, all of its wireless fiber assets and all of its Verizon business assets that were formally under MCI into one inventory.

Related: Verizon seeks to simplify its network with NG-PON2, a converged core and automation

"We're making build and buy decisions now as one in terms of where we go," Hicks said. "It all starts with a deep base of fiber. And then we looked ahead and said 'What's needed for the future of access on fiber?' Obviously, we have fiber deep in the network; we're not looking to change our direction and go with fiber to the node or any of that kind of interim steps. We are believers in bringing fiber all the way to the customers and that will continue. Our future needed to build upon that fiber investment that we already have."

Hicks said Verizon has had some great vendor partners over the years with its fiber deployments, but there's more work to be done on things like driving down the overall cost of installing fiber and making splicing easier.

"We worked really hard to figure out what are the best ways to deploy fiber," Hicks said. "We've had some great partners that have helped us figure out ways to drive down costs in the ODM (original design manufacturer.) We're seeing a lot of those today. That innovation continues and needs to continue. We're very focused on doing that."

Verizon works toward one network

Hicks said Verizon has thousands of real estate locations around the globe and that the telco is looking at sharing those assets.

"Whether it's wireline or wireless, our goal is we're going to share our sites together," he said. "We used to have separate wireless sites, separate wireline sites, and we're now bringing those altogether. We can go deep into the network. We have COs, we have POPs, we have C-RAN huts, let's use these all as a common asset for our network, whether we're serving wireline or wireless customers."

"And then we're going to create shared hub sites. These are higher in the network. This is where you do your aggregation. This is where your service edges are. I have shared access sites and shared hub sites. It's dramatic for us, a dramatic simplification in how we look at our real estate."

Hicks said Verizon was working on the age-old problem of modernizing its transport platform in order to get rid of legacy equipment. He said Verizon probably has more than 40 legacy platforms and 200,000 network elements, some of which are at least 30 years old.

"We can't get rid of them because customers have service on them," he said. "This platform that we've developed with our partners allows us to do circuit emulation. I'm going to be able to decommission probably 200,000 network elements and over 40 different platforms, and be left at the end of the day with just a couple of different platforms that you've got to support.

"You think about the operational simplicity of that, of being able to do that. It's like we're going to be able to operate the network with a fraction of the people that it takes. Our maintenance contracts are going to be dramatically simplified. And we're going to be able to convert our core network to 100% Ethernet. No SONET or TDM left at the core of the network. So it's a big deal for us."

Hicks said that Verizon's service edges had evolved over time to the point where whenever a new service came on board it had a separate, distinct location on the edge. For example, if Verizon deployed a Layer 2 service or Layer 3 service, each would have its own service edge.

"You end up with this multitude of edges," he said. "The uplinks are not very well-utilized; they peak at different times of the day. We embarked on a project that we call our multi-service edge. This is really a single platform that we can run all of our Layer 2 and Layer 3 services on. It has a separate control plane so my customers can scale separate from my data plane. My control can scale separately.

"At the end of the day, I'm going to have about a 90% reduction in routers in the network. I'm going to be left with a dramatically smaller amount of equipment. I'm going to have about 10% of what I have today by the time we're done. Part of that is saying, 'I don't need to have a separate edge for every service.'"

Hicks said building a single network for all of its services also provided uplink benefits. Going forward, Verizon's Fios, internet and Layer 3 services can all share the same uplink.

"Rather than having underutilized uplinks all over the place, we're collapsing them into a shared uplink," he said. "With a much smaller footprint, you get back to that key item of reliability. I don't have as many failure points on the network. You might say you have a bigger failure of domain because you're putting all your eggs in fewer baskets, but we're using diversity and obviously we're sharing the services between the routers. So diversity should actually improve, reliability should improve and cost per bit continues to come down here."