Nokia ticks security, sustainability boxes with new FP5 routing processor

Ray Le Maistre
By Ray Le Maistre

Sep 22, 2021

  • Nokia has unveiled the latest iteration of its FP series of routing processors
  • The FP5 has the usual advance in additional capacity 
  • Processor also integrates new network security features
  • It also consumes a lot less energy than its predecessor

Nokia has doubled-down on security and energy efficiency for the development of its latest in-house routing silicon product, the FP5, which will become the beating heart of a new generation of the vendor’s service provider router products during the next few years.

The development continues the work started almost 20 years ago at Alcatel to produce a dedicated processor for telco routing systems, and which, as it went through its iterations up to the current in-production version, the FP4, has fuelled the vendor’s efforts to become one of the leading suppliers of routers to telcos: With a 14% share, it is currently ranked as the third largest company in the global Service Provider Router and Switch sector by The Dell’Oro Group, behind market leader Cisco and second-placed Huawei, which still commands a large chunk of business in China.  

As ever, there are capacity gains for the FP5 compared with the FP4, with support for 800 Gigabit Ethernet interfaces and 1.6 Tbit/s clear channel routing: Line cards housing multiple FP5 processors will support 14.4 Tbit/s of throughput. That sort of advance can help deal with the rapid rise in bandwidth demand driven by the usual suspects (increasing use of cloud and streaming video services) as well as the uptick driven by the greater volume of people working remotely these days. 

And this is a programmable chipset that allows operators to make adjustments as new services, protocols and capabilities need to be added to the IP network.

But the FP5 story isn’t so much about data processing volume as it is about securing network traffic and reducing power consumption, two critical factors for today’s network builders.

According to Nokia, the FP5 consumes 75% less power than the FP4 in like-for-like scenarios – that’s a lot of opex savings and a helping hand towards carbon emission targets for network operators. But how exactly are such dramatic savings enabled?

Nokia’s Head of IP/Optical marketing, Heidi Adams, says it’s down to a range of factors with no single major contributor, but those factors include dropping to “smaller dies, going to a 7 nanometer [nm] CMOS design, and also in this generation we have consolidated a few of the chips to reduce the board space real estate by 70%, which in turn means you have fewer connections, which consumes less power... We’ve also made some enhancements in the systems as well with a capability we call intelligent aggregation,” added Adams. 

That kind of advance is certainly going to please network operators, as is the focus on security, which was already becoming a much greater challenge even before the Covid-19 pandemic added fuel to the fire.

Adams says even before any lockdowns DDoS traffic had been growing at about 100% year-on-year, and “of course it’s not just about dealing with the bad traffic – there’s also the increasing need to secure the good traffic that’s running across the network. This is where encryption technologies come in... and we’re introducing ANYsec, which is a Nokia innovation. It's built on MACsec encryption, which is increasingly becoming standard in the industry. MACsec enables you to do really low latency, fast, low-cost encryption on a hop-by-hop basis, but very little traffic only goes one hop – most traffic goes across multiple routers or multiple hops within the network. ANYsec enables us to secure end-to-end connections at multiple layers, so we can do it for hop-by-hop, we can do it for IPV6, IPV4, MPLS, we can do it for IP...  we think is going to change the way we implement encryption into network,” says Adams, who says this also enables encryption across multinetwork routes. 

There’s little doubt there will be a strong appetite for Nokia routers based on the new processor when it becomes commercially available early next year – it has a strong track record of delivering what operators want from their traditional suppliers and in service provider routing there’s often a strong case for traditional, integrated systems to get the full set of features and functionalities needed in what is a critical platform in all types of carrier networks. 

But there’s also growing pressure on the router incumbents from alternative, software-oriented, disaggregated platform players such as DriveNets, which have been attracting attention (and business) from major operator such as AT&T. (See DriveNets raises $208 million, attains Unicorn status.)

That such alternatives are proving tempting to operators, and getting them to reconsider their current router platform positions, was highlighted in a recent report that suggested there were relatively high levels of dissatisfaction with incumbent service provider router vendors. 

If such pressures exist, they are not causing Adams any sleepless nights: She is confident that Nokia is keeping its customers happy with a range of router products that range from the FP-based high-performance systems, to merchant silicon-based systems and virtualized routing software that run on x86-based servers. “No matter how an operator wants to provide [services], we offer a full range of different solutions to meet those different requirements,” she notes, adding that “we recently won a pretty significant network award that was up against disaggregated platforms, but we were able to offer a better TCO.” 

And from a competitive perspective, the new processor is only likely to strengthen Nokia’s hand in the market, according to Raymond James analyst Simon Leopold. He believes Nokia will be able to hold off any enhanced competition from Juniper and Arista with this launch and also potential chip away at Cisco’s leading position, as well as help it pick up any opportunities from “the Huawei backlash,” he wrote in a research note. 

And regular Nokia customers are more than happy to see the imminent arrival of the FP5. BT is “pleased to see that with FP5, Nokia continues to innovate to ensure IP networks have the scale, flexibility and features to help us stay ahead of escalating demand from our residential, mobile and business customers,” noted the operator’s Chief Architect Neil McRae in a quote provided for Nokia’s product announcement. “In particular, we are very happy to see the focus on power optimization as we grow our network, with both BT and Nokia committing to significant reduction in carbon footprint. In the past 18 months, our lives have been turned upside down, and our reliance on networks has been dramatically increased and reliability for customers is crucially important. With security being ever more important for our customers, seeing Nokia’s approach to building more security features into the platform is fantastic,” added McRae. 

- Ray Le Maistre, Editorial Director, TelecomTV

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