Why Global Telecom Innovator Ciena Continues to Leverage Ottawa’s World-Class Tech Talent

Apr 5, 2023

As a key enabler of innovations that drive network connectivity and a global leader in optical connectivity, Ciena enables the transmission of greater volumes of data at faster speeds around the world.

Through multiple investments and acquisitions, the company continues to drive disruptive R&D, develop industry-leading networking equipment and software solutions, and expand its next-generation portfolio.

Did you know that among Ciena’s 3,500+ R&D specialists globally, nearly half of them are based in Ottawa?

“Our story is really about people,” begins Gordon Mein, Ciena Ottawa’s Senior Director, Special Projects, Optical R&D. “Ciena pushes the extremes of what advanced networking technologies are all about. Location is also important—where our people choose to live and work. A major reason we have been successful is because we have leveraged and grown the tech talent we already have, around the world and right here in Ottawa.”

In the Heart of Ottawa’s Tech Park

In recent history, Ciena made two key decisions to deepen its roots in Canada’s national capital:

  • In late 2009, Ciena acquired Nortel’s Metro Ethernet Networks (MEN) business, which encompassed leading coherent optical technology and a significant global installed customer base. Completed in March 2010, the acquisition accelerated Ciena’s strategy and changed the communications equipment vendor landscape by combining complementary switching and transport technologies to create the largest global supplier exclusively focused on the transition to converged optical Ethernet-based networking. Pairing the Ciena and MEN organizations gave Ciena diversified expertise, greater global reach, a broader scope of customer relationships, and a deeper technology toolkit to rapidly advance its leadership position.
  • In 2017, Ciena celebrated the official opening of a new global R&D headquarters in Ottawa. The project included the convergence of multiple previous locations across the city into a three-building campus located in Kanata North, Ottawa’s tech park. The 425,000 sq. ft. of modern workspace included 80,000 sq. ft. of state-of-the-art telecom labs, fitted with over 100,000 km of installed fibre optics cabling.

A Global Leader of “Firsts” in Optical Connectivity

“I think many people assume that global transmission of information is done primarily via satellites, but they represent only a small percentage of worldwide capacity,” Mein said. “Most transmission takes place through fibre optic cables installed in subsea and terrestrial systems. While Ciena doesn’t install these cables, we are the dominant provider of equipment that connects to them to enable the connectivity for these large amounts of information. We’re at the forefront, providing equipment to 85% of the largest network operators around the world.”

Mein explains that a single optical fibre, which is about the thickness of a human hair, can contain nearly a hundred wavelengths of light that are simultaneously capable of delivering massive amounts of information.  Today each wavelength can carry up to 800 Gb/s of information, and Ciena was first to market with 100 Gb/s, 400 Gb/s and 800 Gb/s capability.  “That’s an unbelievable amount of capacity,” he says.

According to Mein, global demand for Ciena’s products is driven by the ever-increasing demands being placed on the internet to provide ubiquitous connectivity at ever-increasing speeds with minimal delay.  He doesn’t expect any let up in that demand in the foreseeable future. Ciena’s products not only transport information, but also provide switching and routing capability as well as the ability to manage both the equipment and networks and do so with greener offerings achieved through lower energy consumption and many other initiatives throughout its operations.

Preparing for a Changing World

Mein noted that there are often overlooked dimensions to the introduction of new and better products.

He says, “When you are a leader in developing ‘firsts’ globally, the test equipment for those solutions may not yet exist. So, initially we often need to create custom test solutions, which also requires a significant investment on our part.

“And for our customers, there’s a need to ensure the ‘new products will work with the ‘old products so that we help avoid disruptions in network connectivity for the end user. We are relentlessly focused on giving our customers the tools and support to help create networks that can adapt to ever-changing user demands and bandwidth requirements.”

Becoming an Ecosystem of Tech Talent

Mein views Ottawa as having tremendous potential to become a full “ecosystem” for the telecom and networking industry.  He defines such an ecosystem as having not only the tech talent to develop, introduce and support Ciena’s customers, but also the capacity to manufacture and deliver a diverse range of specialties, tools, and products.

“Thinking about the sheer number of technologies that go into our products,” he reflects, “we need chips, signal processors, circuit boards, connectors, sensors, lenses, specialty optical devices, mechanical assemblies, and so much more. And that’s in addition to all of the software needed to turn all of that into a system that delivers on the overall vision. It would be great if all of the key technologies necessary to create our products could be available to us locally.  That would offer many benefits in speed and agility in developing and delivering our products.   While Ottawa isn’t there yet, I believe it has the potential to become a complete ecosystem for our industry.”

Location Matters

Beyond leveraging the right skillsets, tools and parts, Mein affirms that achieving a complete ecosystem in Ottawa requires people to be physically present—at least when it comes to R&D.

He says, “If it was easy to do everything virtually, it wouldn’t matter where our labs are located or where our tech talent lives and works. But it does matter. Especially during the development phases of complex projects, from concept development and architecture design approaches as well as the testing and optimizing phases, these tend to be particularly highly interactive, with hands-on contributions from our R&D team. For this to happen effectively, a physical presence is a must.”

Asked what keeps tech talent thriving in Ottawa, Mein says, “We have developed a world-class team and facility in the Ottawa area and that’s a draw for people. We also offer work flexibility and provide many opportunities for career growth and development – from job shadowing to specialized training and mentoring. Also, quality of life is very important to our employees. Ottawa delivers on that.”


Ottawa. Be in a good place.

Ottawa gets top marks for livability, lifestyle and our expansive technology sector.

Overflowing with culture, parks, multi-use trails, large expanses of green space and deep breaths of clean air, it’s no coincidence our city rates highly for quality of life in Canada.

With the highest tech concentration in North America, Ottawa is home to multinational giants such as Ciena, homegrown successes, and high-growth startups backed by a boundless entrepreneurial spirit.  Find out more here.


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