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Achieving sustainable resilience for Dubai’s World Expo 2020 and future smart global community

Imagine a 100% self-sustaining net-zero building in the middle of a desert capable of producing its own energy, cooling, and water while providing an immersive digital experience that takes visitors on an interactive journey under and through the forest and ocean and pushes them to rethink how they see the world. That’s exactly what the Sustainability Pavilion “Terra” accomplishes at Dubai’s World Expo, which runs through the end of March 2022 and is considered the world’s most digital event with a theme of “Connecting Minds and Creating the Future.”

The digital environment within the Sustainability Pavilion is crucial to providing a once-in-a-lifetime personal experience that truly inspires visitors to explore humankind’s relationship with nature, fight climate change, and foster collaboration and innovation for a better future. The vibrant LED lighting and state-of-the-art audio-visual systems create an animated forest, surrounding visitors with the sounds and bioluminescence glows of the ocean’s deepest creatures, demonstrate the harmful impacts of human consumption, and depict innovation that provides a sense of hope for the planet. And they do all of that sustainably, reliably, and discreetly through the resilience, performance, and efficiency of a Tellabs’ passive optical LAN (OLAN).

A sustainable future-ready approach

Since the 1851 Great Exhibition in London that displayed the inventions of the Industrial Revolution, World Expos have provided a platform to showcase the greatest innovations that shape the world we live in. With the world now facing a global climate change crisis, it’s no wonder that sustainability is a key component of Expo 2020, the first World Expo to be held in the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia region.

As the green centerpiece of Expo 2020 that’s expected to see 25 million visitors over the six months of the event, the LEED Platinum-certified Sustainability Pavilion is unlike any other. It features a giant 440-foot-wide solar canopy on top of the Pavilion and 18 solar energy “trees” in the garden that rotate to follow the path of the sun, totaling nearly 5000 solar panels and generating 4 gigawatt hours of electricity a year—enough to power about 370 average households. The energy produced is enough to power the Pavilion and all its technology, including cooling systems, rainwater and dew collection, and a greywater recycling system that reduces water use by up to 75%.

“We wanted to demonstrate that you could do an entirely self-sufficient building that’s not only self-sufficient for energy, but self-sufficient for water,” said Andrew Whalley, deputy chairman of Grimshaw Architects who designed the Sustainability Pavilion. “So it’s net-zero energy, net-zero water. And technically, that’s an extremely difficult thing to do in what is quite a challenging environment. But it’s something that all buildings must do within the next decade.”

Throughout the vast 64,000-square-foot Sustainability Pavilion, thousands of LED lights and ultra-high-definition screens line the walls and ceilings to create an immersive experience that includes continuous scenes and sounds of an animated forest, ocean creatures that appear to swim alongside visitors, and an illuminated tunnel formed from arches that represent a whale’s ribs and transmits the dynamic echoing of whale songs that travel throughout the oceans. The network infrastructure needed to connect the lighting and AV equipment that delivers this experience also needed to be sustainable in keeping with the theme of the Pavilion.

Under the leadership of Magellan Network Services, the Singapore-based global service provider that oversees Tellabs international sales and support operations in 145 countries, a Tellabs OLAN solution was introduced as a sustainable option for the Sustainability Pavilion.

“We were challenged with selecting an infrastructure for the continuous state-of-the-art lighting and AV systems that was also sustainable. We looked at a traditional copper-based switched Ethernet solution but that wasn’t going to provide us with the space conservation and efficiency we needed,” says Murad Khan, technical lead with Smartworld, the UAE’s leading systems integrator responsible for deploying the technology at the Sustainability Pavilion. “We had experience with implementing GPON technology, and when Magellan introduced the concept of this technology for the Pavilion using a Tellabs OLAN, it met all of the sustainability requirements of energy, material, and space savings, while also being able to securely handle and control the one-to-many communications in this facility that creates a lot of network traffic.”

Offering four times better density over traditional Ethernet switched networks, passive OLANs have long been considered a more sustainable option due to the use of passive splitters that replace active switches for energy savings and lightweight, smaller-diameter singlemode fiber that translates to both material and pathway space savings. A passive OLAN also offers a much longer lifecycle with its fiber-based infrastructure and splitters that theoretically have the ability to support unlimited bandwidth, eliminating the disruptive and costly replacement of the cabling infrastructure. This is especially important for Expo 2020, which will be renovated into a futuristic mixed-use smart city upon completion of the event.

According to Expo organizers, the current 1083-acre site that was nothing but sand before the building of Expo 2020 will be turned into an urban development called District 2020. Centrally located between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, it will serve as a model global community for the future that will use state-of-the-art innovation, science, and sustainability to create a cleaner, safer, healthier environment to live and work. Approximately 80% of the Expo 2020’s built environment will be repurposed into more than 2 million square feet of commercial and residential space, including the LEED Gold and Platinum-certified buildings like the Sustainability Pavilion.

“Once we close Expo 2020, there won’t be any question about the OLAN’s ability to support the future district. There will be no reason to reinvent the wheel,” says Khan. “We know that passive optical technology without a doubt is going to replace the access layer and copper cabling in the last mile. UAE’s service provider Etisalat has started moving in this direction and campuses are doing the same.”

Robert Lee, managing director for Magellan, couldn’t agree more. “No one is doing smart cities with copper. With the amount of available capacity and the ability to upgrade the system to support 10 Gigabit speeds, the Tellabs OLAN system could easily absorb many of the future systems that will eventually be deployed here,” he says. “Next-generation 40- or 100-Gigabit passive optical networks are possible while keeping the same fiber infrastructure, including cabling and splitters, which I believe makes this technology an ideal solution for the entire District 2020.”

The unseen star of the show

Within the Sustainability Pavilion, the Tellabs OLAN solution connects a variety of lighting and AV equipment, from high-end controllers, players, and projectors to image pixelators, drivers, and ultra-high-definition LG displays that range from 55 to 86 inches. Even the illuminated “Whale Ribs” and automated handrails are connected to the OLAN.

“The entire Pavilion is supported using two Tellabs 1150 OLTs that each support 12 primary networks and 12 secondary networks and more than 500 ONTs that each offer four Gigabit Ethernet ports,” explains Lee. “As one can imagine in this type of venue, aesthetics is very important. Having flush-mounted black ONTs that are connected and discreetly DC powered was ideal for making sure the connectivity is completely invisible to visitors.”

The Tellabs 140W Optical Network Terminals (ONTs) used in the Sustainability Pavilion can be easily integrated into furniture or mounted securely inside walls and ceilings, and the changeable faceplate design is ideal for blending into any décor. This especially appealed to architects at New York-based Cerami & Associates, the largest woman-owned acoustic design and technology consulting firm in the U.S. who was responsible for the design of the Sustainability Pavilion technology infrastructure. To ensure the ONTs could completely blend into the domed projection ceiling, Tellabs even disabled the LED indicators on each ONT. This was not a problem as the link status on all ONTs can easily be determined via the centralized management functionality provided by the Tellabs Panorama PON Manager.

The Tellabs 140W ONTs in the Pavilion are powered using hybrid cable with two singlemode fibers and two 14-AWG copper conductors. Each ONT supports both IEEE 802.3af 15W power over Ethernet (PoE) and high-power IEEE 802.3at 30W PoE on all four ports, as well as uncompressed, multi-channel, low-latency Dante audio over IP that is considered a leading pro-audio technology for live sound, broadcast, and public address. Unlike other passive optical networking solutions, the Tellabs OLAN is especially optimized to support Dante due to its ability to support downstream IP multicasting of signals to multiple devices and VLAN configuration. This support is critical to achieving the real-life audio that brings the forest and ocean to life for visitors of the Sustainability Pavilion.

“We originally thought the Tellabs OLAN would only be used for lighting, but we were able to layer on the AV systems due to its ability to manage multicast traffic,” says Khan. “This also meant far more data to handle than was originally anticipated, but the system has no problem, and we didn’t have to change any hardware.”

Superior resiliency and control

In a digital environment designed to provide a once-in-a-lifetime experience to visitors, there is no room for failure. While network redundancy is often associated with having primary and secondary Ethernet switches, Type B PON protection as defined by ITU-T G.984.1 GPON standards offers superior resiliency and is easily supported on the Sustainability Pavilion Tellabs OLAN by making use of 2:32 splitters that feature two inputs. This allows each splitter to connect to both OLTs.

“Each OLT is capable of supporting the entire Pavilion on its own should a fault ever occur on the other,” explains Lee. “In the event that this ever happens, it is unnoticeable to visitors since the system has instantaneous failover. The system can detect any failure on an OLT and switch all the traffic to the other OLT in seconds. This is the same technology that Tellabs supports in mission-critical environments such as New York’s LaGuardia airport.”

The Tellabs OLAN 1150 OLTs that send and receive data from every ONT and serve as the interface to the core Expo 2020 network were geographically dispersed in the Pavilion’s two separate telecom rooms with fiber route diversity and path protection. Uplink resiliency was added via multiple Gigabit uplinks from each OLT to each aggregation switch. The entire system also uses a diversification design where ONTs and devices are distributed in a way that minimizes any potential outages. For the Pavilion, adjacent lighting and AV systems connect to separate ONTs, with critical services connecting to multiple ONTs. The combination of Type B protection, geographically dispersed OLTs, path protection, and diversification offers the highest degree of resiliency and redundancy to maintain a constant Sustainability Pavilion experience for visitors.

“Redundancy in every project we do is considered best practice, and in working with Tellabs and Magellan, we were able to achieve it to the highest degree,” says Khan. “We have thoroughly tested the resiliency by repeatedly taking each of the OLTs offline at separate times. The outcome is that a single OLT can power the whole event without any issues.” According to Khan, the system is also designed to prioritize various traffic categories and allocate bandwidth requirements accordingly so that no single ONT can be overloaded, which adds another layer of resiliency for the Pavilion.

Another significant benefit of the Tellabs OLAN deployed at the Expo 2020 Sustainability Pavilion is the centralized management capability provided by the Tellabs Panorama PON Manager platform. The foundation of software defined networking for the OLAN, Panorama is a server- or web-based platform that reduces operational costs by allowing for faster and easier installation, reconfigurations, and management with smart discovery of the entire system. Through the creation of global profiles, specific policies can be distributed to all ONTs from one centralized location, including configuring Type B PON protection, VLANs, bandwidth allocation and shaping, security, and other system-level parameters. The system can even enable and disable specific ONT ports, provide real-time alarms, and perform automatic backups. For the Sustainability Pavilion, this centralized management capability was vital to bringing all systems online for the opening—especially during the global Covid-19 pandemic.

“We started configuring the OLAN while stuck at home for several months during Covid. I was able to practically get the entire system up and running while not even being in the same country, and only needed to make minor tweaks once we could get on site. That really impressed me,” says Khan. “The ability to try different configurations and roll them out without having to access each ONT made commissioning faster and easier. In the future, the adaptability of Panorama will also allow us to diversify into other applications that may need to be supported when Expo 2020 transitions into District 2020.”

Because Panorama resides on a single IP address and encompasses one software load and one management interface to control the entire network, it reduces the attack surface to significantly improve security and reduce chance of cyberattack. This is critical in the face of rising global cybercrime that has increased nearly 300% over the past two years according to recent U.S. FBI reports. In addition, because Panorama eliminates the need to manually access each ONT to set specific parameters and enables setting strict security policies and access on a per-user and perdev-ice basis, it offers a Zero Trust Architecture (ZTA) as recommended by leading industry network security standards.

A winning combination

Originally scheduled to run from October 2020 through March 2021, the official opening of Expo 2020 was delayed by a year due to the pandemic. However, the Sustainability Pavilion opened its doors in 2020 for a three-month run to prove it was ready to welcome the world for the grand opening. This included giving preliminary visitors in the region the opportunity to rank on-site health and safety precautions and their overall experience. During its trial run, more than 90% of those surveyed said that the Sustainability Pavilion inspired them to change their behavior—from saving water to making a conscious effort to use less plastic. The official event has now been running for several months, and the Sustainability Pavilion is one of the most popular attractions due to the immersive experience provided by the state-of-the-art lighting and AV that is all supported by the sustainable, resilient Tellabs OLAN.

“When we first embarked on this project, the amount of technology in the space was overwhelming and we worried that the massive walls of LED lights and digital displays would create too much traffic and require us to go to 10 Gig,” says Lee. “But it is working perfectly, and we know that we can go to Tellabs 10 Gig XGS-PON in the future by simply upgrading the PON cards and ONTs while retaining the existing OLT hardware and software and fiber infrastructure. It’s a project that we are extremely proud of, and that has a lot to do with our partnership with both Tellabs and Smartworld.”

Khan couldn’t agree more. “For Smartworld, Expo 2020 and the Sustainability Pavilion is another winner. Working with a totally new vendor can be a challenge but having a great product and the support from Magellan speaks for itself. We are running a world event that has been propagated with all the latest solutions, and we are proud to be a part of that.”


Karen Leos is vice president of global sales and professional services at Tellabs, where she holds responsibility for the product, solution, and services portfolio throughout the lifecycle, from scoping and understanding customer needs through implementation, maintenance support, optimization, and refresh.