Gary Smith, chief executive officer, Ciena Corporation

Ciena Corporation, a US-based leading global network specialist, is witnessing significant traction in the market with buildouts of next -generation networks worldwide.  It has expertise in packet and optical networking and distributed software automation, and provides open interfaces to coordinate computing, storage and network resources in a unified, virtualised environment. The company’s Blue Planet software portfolio is registering an encouraging response globally. In India, the company has been operating for the past 12 years, during which time it has collaborated with five of the seven leading operators. It continues to chart significant growth in the Indian market, which is also emerging as one of the company’s key research and development (R&D) hubs. Ciena has been a witness to the telecom sector’s changing sector dynamics and is looking forward to enabling networks to gear up for the data revolution. In an interview with, Gary Smith, chief executive officer, Ciena Corporation, talked about changing network requirements globally, the key emerging trends and opportunities, as well as plans for the Indian market…

How have network requirements for telecom operators changed in recent years?

The fundamental architecture business model of the industry has shifted completely with the introduction of data services. The internet has led to the evolution of networks from being designed predominantly for voice to now cater to a massive amount of data. The growth in mobile phones has been exemplary such that the industry has moved from fixed to wireless voice networks and now to video and data.

Content players have become a critical part of the industry. In the broader context, virtualisation of storage and digitisation of networks have become crucial parts of the whole delivery process of the overall digital revolution that the industry is undergoing. The good news from an industry point of view is that the network has become important as an extremely critical part of the entire digital experience.

What is the response to Ciena’s Blue Planet software portfolio?

We have several customers signing up for Blue Planet. Through this software portfolio we are looking at next-­generation orchestration, which includes software-defined networking (SDN), software-defined wide area network (SDWAN) and similar support. So, we are working with a number of carriers to deliver network function virtualisation (NFV) services. But the big opportunity lies in automation, with all the new services coming online.

The Blue Planet architecture is built around all the predominant open standards, such that it prevents a carrier from getting locked in. Earlier, carriers partnered with a single organisation, say, IBM or Amdocs, to look after their end-to-end network connectivity needs. However, that is not the case today. Operator requirements have changed significantly and now they demand agility, shorter turnaround time and higher customisation. They are ready to partner with multiple vendors – each one of them a specialist in the respective area of work. So we are talking about an ecosystem of best breed in areas such as enterpr­ise software, virtual routin firewalls.

Presently, the first big application of Blue Planet in India is automation and later, we will move to SDN, NFV, SDWAN, etc. India needs to have the basic infrastructure in place first. With regular instances of road digging leading to fibre breakages, deployment of software and automation tools has become more critical, as one cannot go and fix all these fibre breakages all the time. Therefore, Blue Planet is likely to play a massive role for us in India as we perceive it as a great fit for the country.

Initiatives like Digital India will prove to be incredibly helpful. We are already seeing significant amounts of investment flowing into this space. So, the pivotal point is to make digital a reality for the people, getting them to experience new technologies such as 4G and the rest will fall in place.

What role is Ciena playing in the data centre space?

We are world leaders when it comes to connecting data centres. Most of the big content companies globally are our key customers and we help them connect their data centres. But now we are also witnessing an increasing trend of enterprises and organisations looking to connect their data centres. Governments are doing it too.  We launched a new platform called Wave­server a couple of months ago and we already had 11 customers during the previous quarter. It is a totally software-driven technology platform, wherein content players can ride leading optical technology on it as well as put their own management. It is a completely open interface.

We are also industry leaders in terms of providing transmission technology to the submarine world. Content providers such as Google need to drive capacity outside North America as they are witnessing a high demand and growth from markets such as India and Asia-Pacific. The good news is that the level of investment flowing into new cables and upgradation of the existing ones is pretty significant.

“The pivotal point is to make digital a reality for the people, getting them to experience new technologies such as 4G.”

How important is the Indian market for Ciena?

While most of the other markets have taken an evolutionary path from fixed to wireless, India has leapfrogged into the mobile area. So, in many cases, Indian operators become the first few to test some of our leading innovations as there is little constraint in terms of legacy infrastructure. India in fact was the first country to do trials for terabit networks and deploy them. Another opportunity is the scale which is required for India that makes it a very interesting market.

We have been in India for over 12 years and we made a big commitment early on when we put a big piece of our R&D directly in India and that has done incredibly well for us. The Gurgaon facility is our second largest R&D site after North America and is our fastest growing R&D site as well. Our operator partners can do a lot of their testing, development, core development work and testing integration work in the facility. Further, the Gurgaon facility also provides solutions for the global markets and not exclusively for India.

We are about 1,000 people in India, about one-fifth of our employee strength worldwide. We are number one or number two in terms of market share in every single segment we operate in. India is one of our fastest growing businesses. Until recently it was Brazil, based on the big buildout there – Ciena networks played an important role in managing capacity during the Olympics 2016, but now I think, India will take that mantle for the next one to three years at least.

With all the recent initiatives undertaken by the Indian industry and the government, significant telecom ­support infrastructure is being quickly put in place, particularly in the mobile space. We are in field trials with five of the top seven Indian carriers.

Ciena has also been awarded the contract to build the core transport and switching backbone networks for the Indian armed forces’ Network for Spectrum (NFS) project. India’s army, navy and air force will be the exclusive users of the new network. We are seeing investment from the government in its infrastructure, which should benefit everybody.

What is your outlook for SDWAN adoption in India in the next couple of years?  

Even though IP VPN continues to be the fastest growing segment, some early levels of discussions around SDWAN are taking place. SDWAN will play a key role, particularly in the small and medium enterprise market, over time.

What expectations do you have from initiatives like Digital India and the Smart Cities Mission in terms of business growth?

The government has announced 100 smart cities, and the states are making a number of decisions on how they would carry out this transformation. Ciena can step in by providing connectivity, whether it is in the access, core or aggregation layer. We basically see our role and contribution to these projects through our existing partner operators which are providing connectivity to smart cities.

What are your views about India’s adoption of IoT?

The broader point is to connect the people first and then move on to connecting things. We still have only about a third of the people in the world connected to the internet. IoT is a great opportunity and Blue Planet will play a big role by orchestrating anything; but the priority ought to be to get the planet on the internet.

We are very excited as India is now building  the relevant infrastructure pre­do­minantly to connect people, which in turn will become the platform to connect things as well. The regulatory environment has also improved significantly in recent years. Develop­ments such as spectrum trading and sharing, network sharing and number portability are helping to attract investors.

What is your roadmap for Indian operations in the next five years?

Ciena has been committed to India stra­tegically. A long-term approach is important as these markets do not develop overnight.

We see India as our key R&D hub, primarily due to the enormous pool of talent that it offers. We are already in the process of expanding our existing R&D facility in Gurgaon. It will be online next year and will double our capacity from a building point of view.

India is our fastest growing market and the growth momentum is likely to continue. Blue Planet will be a major part of the buildout of India’s telecom infrastructure.

The opportunity here with Digital India – basically giving people the internet experience directly through their mobile phones – is an exciting one. We are helping a number of carriers deal with this massive buildout. We also aim to help these operators manage their huge networks, and orchestration and automation will be a critical part of that.

What are the three key technology trends that the Indian industry is going to witness in the coming years?

The first is mobility, the second is network virtualisation and the third is back office automation.