ADTRAN CEO Stanton talks networking trends

From when the carrier market will be ready for software defined networking to strategy in moving towards a white box world, ADTRAN CEO Tom Stanton shared his views at the company’s Connect Press and Analyst event.


Tom Stanton, ADTRAN CEO

HUNTSVILLE, ALA – “Some of our customers won’t like to hear this, but nobody’s ready for SDN [software-defined networking] right now,” said Tom Stanton, long-time CEO at networking vendor ADTRAN, at the company’s Connect event for press and analysts at the company’s headquarters here today. “We build SDN software, and we put layers on top to make it look old, and when the time is ready, we will take them off.”

Stanton’s comment, referring specifically to the carrier market, was one of the more trenchant pieces of analysis he offered to his audience. In this case, he was referring to the need to make their newer technology backwards-compatible to a carrier market that isn’t quite ready yet for SDN.

“Service providers want to leverage their existing assets,” said Jay Wilson, ADTRAN’s Senior VP of Technology and Strategy. “They are not going to throw stuff away and buy new stuff. That’s not realistic. Making something look old here is backward compatibility to older operating systems. It’s a practical idea. It lets the customer invest in new technology is that still compatible with their existing OS.”

SDN is something that carriers will eventually have to adopt, Stanton said.

“For carriers, it’s very difficult to just scale up the way they did in the past, which is why SDN is a requirement,” he said. “Building this will take some time, however. But has to be done and that’s what our Mosaic architecture is about.”

ADTRAN’s Mosaic, its combination of cloud platform and open services architecture for the carrier market, was announced in late July. Stanton said that it’s very much an investment in the future, but a necessary one.

“Last year, we combined our carrier and enterprise sides of the business to make sure we had a single group working on this with Mosaic, instead of having two separate stovepipes,” Stanton said. “It’s not something I expect will go through the roof from a revenue perspective today, but if we don’t have it, we will be behind when that revenue does emerge.”

Stanton said that the signs are visible that carriers are beginning to make major moves forward with their technology.

“We are seeing, for the first time, that things are actually starting to shift,” he said. “We are seeing major carriers with their significant fiber and G.Fast initiatives, and GPON deployments. Two years ago, you wouldn’t have believed that was going to happen. Tiers Twos are talking for the first time about GPON cities and trying to offer IPTV services. The mindset has changed, both here in the US and abroad, like in Britain with BT.”

That means a real revolution is coming.

“The competitive landscape is about to go through a real sea change and for the first time we should see the exponential growth we have been looking for a long time in access speeds,” Stanton said. “This will also have a corresponding impact on fixed wireless, and the number of access points.”

The Internet of Things will only accelerate this, Stanton stressed.

“If you are a believer in the Internet of Things – and I am – then you are not talking about millions of users, but billions of endpoints. That’s something that will develop in the next 5-10 years, but momentum is building today.”

Stanton said that carrier chatter about the problem of vendor lock-in works to their advantage over their principal competitors in that space, Huawei and Alcatel.

“Carriers not wanting vendor lock in is not new,” he said. “They’ve been saying it since the beginning of time, but they feel more serious about it this time. We see this as an opening for us. I don’t want to be a commercial for Mosaic, but one of its differentiations is that we don’t want to make it just open standards, but make it truly interoperable. We are really trying to embrace that.”

Stanton stated his view that ADTRAN’s technology is well positioned for all these changes.

“We have the best architecture flat-out from a physical layer and a software perspective,” he said. “We have a backlog of R&D and the key is to keep the momentum. We handle large deals pretty well. We are the largest vectoring vendor. Starting next year, we will have the largest G.Fast deployment in the world.

Stanton indicated that there are things where ADTRAN still needs to improve as the industry transitions away from proprietary technologies to a white box world.

“There are pieces we have to get better at, as the space as a whole has to get better,” he said. “We are moving from an industry that was proprietary, where hardware and software were very much interlinked. From an engineering side, we are there. However, in terms of the way we are packaging and developing our software, we have to get better at the sales and marketing. We are a bit hamstrung there, because the customer isn’t ready yet. With RFPs, the way they package some of these things doesn’t make sense. There’s a learning curve on both sides that have to happen. You will also see more of the intellectual property move out of the hardware. But we still have time to move toward that white box world.”