ZTE’s TITAN-ic Gamble: Does a Massive OLT/Transport Platform Make Sense in an Increasingly Decentralized, Software-Defined Landscape?

Erik Keith – Principal Analyst

Summary Bullets:

  • ZTE’s demonstration of 50G PON, specifically single-lambda, symmetric 50G PON at OFC 2018, highlights the vendor’s R&D commitment in the evolving FTTP markets.
  • ZTE still needs commercial proof points for its new TITAN OLT/optical transport solution, especially in light of the trend towards decentralized, virtualized, and software-defined fixed access networks.

The annual Optical Fiber Communication (OFC) conference in the U.S. took place in San Diego earlier this month. Inevitably, the event provides the opportunity for vendors to showcase both their current product portfolios and prototype technologies. To this end, ZTE took full advantage of exposure provided by OFC to demo a 50G PON solution, specifically, a single-wavelength, symmetric 50G PON. The single-lambda approach distinguishes ZTE’s 50G proposition from other ‘ultra-PON’ offerings, i.e., those delivering 50 or 100G PON via multiple wavelengths.

While ZTE is to be congratulated for demonstrating what is possible using a single-lambda, GPON-based approach to deliver 50 Gbps of symmetric connectivity, the vendor does need to show progress on other, related fronts – specifically, the commercial availability and customer traction for its new Terabit Integrated Transmission Access Network (TITAN) platform, which combines an optical line terminal (OLT) with optical transport functionality.

ZTE debuted the TITAN platform in October 2016, at the Broadband World Forum (BBWF) event. At the time, ZTE asserted general availability/first customer shipments for TITAN in Q2 or Q3 2017. However, roughly a year later (at the 2017 BBWF), the TITAN was not yet shipping to customers, and ZTE asserted that the platform would be in commercial implementations in China. ZTE did also claim that that TITAN was in multiple customer trials, including with SoftBank in Japan.

With the first quarter of 2018 now coming to a close, the time is right for ZTE to come forward with tangible evidence that its new flagship platform is in operator accounts. There is no reason to doubt ZTE’s assertions that the TITAN has been in multiple customer trials, especially given its profound ‘speeds and feeds’ for PON, i.e., a whopping 28.8 Terabits of throughput capacity (four times that of Huawei’s MA5800) and support for 576 x 10G EPON ports or 144 NG-PON2 ports.

However, the big question that looms for ZTE’s TITAN is whether network operators are willing to invest in a new ‘hybrid’ hardware model, i.e., one which combines a FTTP OLT platform with optical transport functionality. And TITAN is truly titanic, taking up a full 2.2-meter telco rack. This is especially important in light of the trend towards smaller-form factor OLTs that are leveraged in combination with software-defined access solutions.

Finally, there is the completely ‘decentralized’ or virtual OLT proposition, where the OLT functionality is distributed across multiple network elements, i.e., under the ‘Central Office Re-architected (as a) Data Center’ (CORD) model. On the operator front, AT&T has led the way towards fixed network virtualization with its virtual OLT Hardware Abstraction (VOLTHA) proposition, again pointing to a different direction from that of TITAN. While ZTE has asserted that TITAN supports SD-Access capabilities, details are limited at this point. As ZTE brings TITAN to market, it will be critical for the company to demonstrate the platform’s ability not only to support massive speeds and feeds, but also to facilitate operator plans for incorporating SD-Access, including increasingly decentralized and virtualized functionalities.

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