Outlook 2022: “Connectivity in Underserved Areas Will Overcome the Digital Divide”

Azz-Eddine Mansouri, the General Manager of Sales at Ciena Middle East, says the Middle East is a significant growth market for Ciena

How was 2021 for the industry and your company?
During 2021, as also for most of 2020, the world has been facing the challenge of having to deal with the “new world of work” — or, as some call it the “return to work.” Businesses have been moving to the cloud for years, and COVID only accelerated the adoption. While applications to support a more collaborative and distributed workforce were already in use before the pandemic, now they’re a vital part of the way we work.

At the company level, despite COVID-19, we continue to drive profitability and have the capacity for continued investments in innovation. Long-term fundamental demand drivers – including increasing network traffic, demand for bandwidth, and adoption of cloud architectures – remain strong at Ciena.

What sort of opportunities did 2021 bring along?
The COVID-19 pandemic not only created challenges but also offered innumerable opportunities to innovate. As a result, companies have invested in new technologies – particularly in cloud applications that enabled remote workers to be productive from their home offices.

For instance, companies are looking at the cloud for benefits of business process automation, security and disaster recovery, and better insights about the customers and processes via artificial intelligence and machine learning. The rollout of 5G standalone networks also saw the bandwidth increasing and latency reducing even further.

Did you face any challenges in 2021?
The past 18 months have shown us just how much we rely on the network to stay connected. As a leading player, we were not insulated from global and industry-wide supply chain constraints. However, we have the best-in-class ability to manage this challenge and to deliver outcomes for our customers.

What were your key achievements in 2021?
At Ciena, we are driving the pace of innovation, and this has reflected in our key achievements for FY 2021, with significant expansion of our WL5 Extreme (WL5e) customers, as well as expanding our portfolio of offerings. We have also commercially shipped our first 400 ZR pluggables, WL5 Nano. We also secured a dozen new wins for our Routing and Switching technologies, including significant, multi-year wins with two of the largest U.S. Tier 1 service providers – one of which is for a nationwide 5G Cell Site Router deployment.

And, our multivendor Blue Planet services automation software is now deployed at 30 of the largest global carriers around the world to help drive their digital transformation efforts. Additionally, our global services business has seen some positive momentum with growth across each of our service categories and earning a 95% customer satisfaction rating in 2021.

In line with our commitment to our people and communities, we ran several programs that create a more sustainable and connected future, including the launch of the Digital Inclusion Commitment initiative with a goal to provide opportunities for 100,000 underserved students in our global communities.

What promises does 2022 bring along?
At Ciena, we remain focused on delivering networks that can adapt to ever-changing demands. As a key enabler of innovations that drive network connectivity, Ciena has a responsibility to do everything we can to ensure that network operators can always deliver the critical next-generation connectivity, especially during and beyond this pandemic.

In view of the rapid changes over the past 18-20 months, our customers have reported rapid growth in bandwidth demand resulting from the dramatic shift. These demands stem from the exponential rise in remote working to maintain the flow of business and commerce; to remote education; and e-gaming and streaming entertainment for the reprieve we all need. Virtualized and cloud-based services as well as 5G use cases will continue to play a major role in the increase of network capacity.

Do you see opportunities in the regional markets with new markets opening up?
Yes, the Middle East is a significant growth market for Ciena and aligns with our global expansion strategy. With opportunities on the horizon for next-generation network deployments in the Gulf, we are delighted to have established our footprint in the region, with leading operators such as Etisalat, Omantel, Batelco, and Telecom Egypt among many others.

The UAE and KSA are ahead of the curve in adopting new technologies such as 5G and connected devices. Sustainability goals and ecological concerns drive internet user behaviour in the Middle East and we see a huge potential to expand our footprint here.

According to you, which technologies will be in demand in 2022?
In 2022, we will see an increase in the number of homes and businesses utilizing 5G. The 5G fixed wireless will encourage competition for broadband speeds in residential communities. Remote workers need more options and choices at their home offices, and reliable 5G can allow them to access the internet throughout the whole house.

The potential of 5G promises an unlimited amount of new content, applications and services, and the network architecture and technologies required to unlock this potential are being developed and deployed at pace.

Additionally, I expect we will see greater focus around IP/Optical network convergence. In fact, in a recent survey, we commissioned with Heavy Reading, 87% of service providers view IP and optical convergence as “important” for their next-generation networks, and 29% view convergence as “critical”.

What will be your key focus areas for 2022?
We will start to see a greater focus on three key areas of network investment: network automation, Edge cloud, and 5G. Previously, networks were not constructed to deliver the expectations of a truly immersive experience. Evolving the network through innovative technologies and solutions will truly deliver the experience we need. Overall, we have substantial momentum and increased confidence in the demand environment.

What milestones have you set for 2022?
Ciena is constantly evolving along with modern networking solutions to fortify its position in the dynamic tech industry. The company has been diversifying its footprint in data center connectivity. This has enhanced its reach into a broader end-to-end optical and data equipment market.

At Ciena, we are leveraging our optical expertise to offer a new architectural approach to address next-gen metro and edge use cases. We are increasingly investing in the data and optical fiber market to cash in on the tremendous growth opportunity presented by bandwidth demand from network service providers. By expanding beyond its core optical networking expertise, Ciena has been able to boost its customer base, thereby growing its addressable market.

What would you like to do differently in 2022, when compared with 2021?
Investment in the underlying infrastructure is going to be a focus point for the industry as we head into next year. Organizations and consumers alike can have 5G, which promises greater speeds and low latency, but this is still relying on the wireline network to fulfill the promise.

Do you plan to enter new markets or add new products/applications to your portfolio in 2022?
Overall, secular demand remains very strong, driven by increasing bandwidth needs, the shift to the cloud, and the focus on edge applications, as well as digital transformation and the growing need for network automation. We continue to take full advantage of our leading position to address these network priorities. We’re making forward investments in our portfolio and go-to-market resources that are aligned with these trends and the longer-term opportunities. I predict we will see a greater focus on trying to improve connectivity in underserved areas to overcome the digital divide.

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