Juniper tries to lure elusive service providers with network routers for 5G

Juniper is updating routers for service providers' networks as they upgrade to 5G. (Getty Images)

Juniper Networks is offering refreshes to its metro, edge and core network portfolio, and it’s billing the updates as a way for service providers to simplify their path to 5G.

“The reason we’ve leaned in on 5G transformation is because the service providers have to transform the way their networks fundamentally operate,” said Donyel Jones-Williams, a director of product marketing at Juniper.

He gave a thumbnail explanation of core, metro and edge. The core is the network backbone, that thing that “connects the NFL cities,” he said. The core also refers to the connectivity between the big public cloud providers’ networks.

The metro network can be thought of as the place where the service provider’s network starts and gets handed over to the consumer. “The clearest definition of metro is really the end demarcation of a service provider’s network,” said Jones-Williams. “For 5G, that’s all the way out to the cell tower. We’re anticipating the infrastructure needed at the cell tower all the way back to aggregation will need to go through a refresh.”

And the edge runs from the cell tower to the consumer. Although the edge seems to have a lot of different definitions, Jones-Williams said that in the case of 5G, it’s around the place where the metro meets the border of the network, where you find the evolved packet core. He said it’s also the place where service providers locate their data centers.

“The one trend we’re seeing moving forward is we’re going to see more of the traffic be consolidated in the metro and edge, and less consolidation in the core network,” he said.

Unlike prior network upgrades that focused on the core, Juniper anticipates that 5G will drive more transformation in the edge and especially in the metro. “True transformation is going to start there and move into the core," he said. "Because of this shift to 5G and moving content closer to the consumers, a lot of traffic is going to reside in the metro."

The company today introduced an expanded Metro Fabric portfolio with updates to its ACX700 universal metro routers (available during the first half of 2020). For the edge, Juniper announced a new MPC11E line card in its MX2000 series 5G universal routing platform, powered by Juniper’s own Penta silicon. And for the core, Juniper’s PTX10008 and PTX10016 universal chassis will use the company’s new Triton silicon. (The edge and core updates will be available during the second half of 2019.)

Jones-Williams said some service providers are wanting to leverage their assets for both mobile and fixed connectivity.

As a side note, that seems to be what AT&T is doing. They’re updating their central offices via the open source Central Office Re-Architected as a Data Center (CORD) projects. And they’re also updating their existing 100-plus data centers that were part of their legacy AT&T Integrated Cloud, which is now known as their Network Cloud for 5G. It’s hard to tell where their wireline infrastructure is completely separated from their wireless infrastructure.

RELATED: AT&T taps Mirantis to update its Network Cloud for 5G

But while there seems to be some convergence of fixed and mobile networks, Jones-Williams said, “If we look at the global landscape, there haven’t been any dominant trends. There are cases where everything is built specifically for mobility: fronthaul, midhaul and backhaul. We've also seen the exact opposite case, and we've also seen a blending of the two.”

Juniper is undoubtedly hoping that there are lots of upgrades to infrastructure for 5G, and that service providers will select its equipment. The company’s earnings reports have not pleased investors for the last several quarters. For its fourth quarter 2018, Juniper posted revenues of $1.181 billion, which was down 5% year over year and flat compared to the previous quarter. And for the full year 2018, the company’s net revenues decreased 8%. Service provider revenue for the quarter was down 15% year over year.