The Summer of Software Defined Access: Foreshadowing Fall Success?

Erik Keith – Principal Analyst, Fixed Access Infrastructure

• Calix, ADTRAN and Nokia, in that order, all hosted media/analyst events this summer which highlighted each vendor’s focus on software-defined access (SDA) solutions.

• Differentiation of SDA solutions between vendors will be more challenging than previous, hardware/performance-focused comparisons. As such, the clearest differentiation for and between vendor SDA solutions will be customer/operator wins, the bigger and more numerous, the better.

With the fall equinox upon us, it is timely to reflect on the summer of SDA. From June through August, SDA was a hot topic for three key fixed access systems vendors: Calix, ADTRAN and Nokia.

Striking first was Calix, which hosted an event in San Francisco in June highlighting both its commitment to and asserted expertise in SDA. As with most Calix events, charismatic CEO and founder Carl Russo was the lead evangelist for the Calix SDA proposition (AXOS), touting the vendor’s All In bet on the SDA market. Company executives left no room for doubt about the company’s focus, i.e., “We are now a software company.”

Mr. Russo offered even more colorful and memorable quotes, including:

• “The ASICs model is a dead man walking – we got out of it in 2008”

• “Whitebox is not a cause, it’s a symptom…a symptom of abstraction”

• “Silicon is going to come up and suck all of the value out of the hardware”

Customer testimonials from CenturyLink – Frank Miller, VP of Network Architecture – and the UCOM (Armenia) – CTO Gevorg Gevorgyan – bolstered the Calix SDA story, with references to the ongoing SDA/NG-PON2 trial by Verizon FiOS also mentioned where Calix and ADTRAN were both selected.

Calix clearly left no room for doubt as to its commitment to SDA, effectively throwing down the gauntlet against all rivals by asserting that AXOS is the “only true SDA.” As a final salvo, Calix proclaimed that it will be inundating the market (and press) this fall with announcements about both new SDA components and related customer proof points.

ADTRAN was next up in the summer of SDA, showcasing its updated and expanded MOSAIC SDA proposition at its annual CONNECT event, hosted by the vendor at its Huntsville, Alabama, headquarters in mid-August. Not to be outdone by close rival Calix, ADTRAN upped the ante on the customer testimonial front, bringing in CenturyLink CTO Aamir Hussain and Verizon’s Vincent O’Byrne, Director of Network Planning.

ADTRAN CEO Tom Stanton then provided some tangible evidence of the company’s SDA traction with operators. In the eight months MOSAIC has been on the market, more than 25 operators have trialed the solution, with 10 operators deploying MOSAIC commercially. This includes Australia’s nbn, which is leveraging MOSAIC as “cornerstone for SDA” in a nationwide deployment. Other SDA opportunities for ADTRAN include CenturyLink’s 10G OLT implementations, and a 10G EPON deployment with major MSO in US.

Next up for ADTRAN was Chris Thomson, the MOSAIC portfolio director, who described ADTRAN’s SDA proposition as analogous to the Butterfly Effect, i.e., the Mosaic Effect: “When a single intent can configure, deploy, activate and orchestrate an array of software functions, network elements and services; creating new opportunity accelerating time to market…”

Nokia capped off the SDA summer season at its Fixed Networks analyst event, held the last week of August in Sunnyvale, California. Unlike Calix and ADTRAN, which have led the charge of the fixed access light brigade towards a software-defined access future, Nokia has taken a far more deliberate, and cautious approach towards SDA. Rival vendors – most notably, and predictably, Calix and ADTRAN – have spun Nokia’s seemingly slow-to-react approach to SDA as a sign of weakness, to be exploited accordingly.

However, as Nokia provided details of its impending SDA proposition debut – under a non-disclosure agreement but coming soon – it became quite clear that Nokia has every intention of being not just a contender, but a leader in the SDA space, especially as operators transition to the even higher-capacity, higher-performance PON (and 5G wireless) networks.

This was evidenced by Nokia’s extensive referencing of use cases; please see: “Use Case Based Marketing:” Passive Aggressive (Yet Defensive) Competitive Messaging?, from September 7, 2017, for our perspective on this approach.

From the competitors’ standpoint, Nokia has been slow to move on SDA. But if one considers the fact that Nokia acquired Alcatel-Lucent in Q1 2016, and then closed the acquisition of Gainspeed (purveyor of the virtual CCAP proposition) approximately one year ago, a more rational perspective takes hold. One analogy that comes to mind with the consolidation of Nokia/Alcatel-Lucent/Gainspeed is, quite simply, Turning the Battleship. But once that battleship is turned, it can take aim at targets with all nine guns…

SDA Differentiation Difficulties: So, with the likes of Calix, ADTRAN and Nokia, not to mention almost every other fixed access vendor from Huawei to Iskratel, touting SDN/NFV and SDA capabilities, how can this multitude of solutions be differentiated from one another? On one hand, differentiation will be quite challenging, at least from the “data sheet” perspective, given both the complexity of any given SDA portfolio, and each vendor’s approach to revealing the full performance, integration and service enablement capabilities of their respective solution sets.

On the other hand, differentiation will come in the one of the oldest and simplest forms possible: customer traction. Never mind the exquisitely-crafted sales and marketing propositions; the most compelling proof points will come from service provider wins, the bigger and more numerous, the better.

About Erik Keith
As Principal Analyst for Fixed Access Infrastructure, Erik is responsible for tracking major technological, strategic and tactical developments in the wireline broadband access market. Erik's primary areas of coverage include FTTP/PON systems, DSLAMs, DLCs/MSAPs, cable access and head-end systems, as well as digital media infrastructure solutions.

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