Editor's Corner—DCI, next-gen PON and open optical networking were among the key trends that took center stage at OFC 2017

Having started out in the telecom industry nearly 19 years ago covering the optical industry segment, it was refreshing to return to the OFC show in Los Angeles.

Unlike the ramp-up to the so-called internet bubble, carriers and vendors today are responding to applications that require high bandwidth.

Alan Willner, past president of The Optical Society (OSA), told FierceTelecom that after seeing the telecom bust in 2001, the industry is on a pragmatic course.

“We’re now at a point where it’s so healthy because people figured out what’s considered to be rational exuberance: business rational, technology rational, and application rational for this industry,” Willner said. “The fundamental reasons why optics is good for communications and related technologies has become clearer and clearer.”

While other topics will emerge, there were five key trends that I think will shape the optical industry in 2017:

Data Center Interconnection (DCI): In order to satisfy the appetite for content, data center providers and their wholesale partners are looking to find more efficient ways to interconnect data centers. ACG Research has forecast purchases of optical DCI equipment to grow from $1.03 billion in 2015 to $4.15 billion in 2020. The need for higher speed DCI is being driven by the consumer appetite for streaming video, social networking, clouding computing and mobile commerce. These applications are driving data center operators to deploy high-density, low latency and low power DWDM links to connect multiple data centers.

Adva and Juniper released new products addressing DCI. Adva introduced a 600G capable system that can deliver a total duplex capacity of 3.6 Tbps in a single-rack unit. Meanwhile, Juniper unveiled Open Cloud Interconnect, a platform that allows service providers to use the vendors MX Series 3D Universal Edge Routers, QFX Series Switches and Contrail Networking, to build customized DCI solutions.

“The DCI market for optical equipment is definitely hot right now—almost all of the major optical equipment vendors have introduced new platforms into this space providing compact, datacenter-environment optimized, point-to-point WDM transport for simple network configurations,” said Heidi Adams, senior research director for transport networks at IHS Markit.

Next-gen PON: GPON emerged over the past 10 years as the second pillar in the fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) delivery machine. Now that GPON has enabled providers like AT&T, Verizon and, more recently, CenturyLink deliver higher rate speeds of up to 1 Gbps, the question is what’s next?

Led by the ITU-T and the Broadband Forum, the industry has coalesced around a number emerging PON standards, including XGS-PON and NG-PON2. These standards allow service providers to deliver 10 and even 40 Gbps of bandwidth to businesses and residential customers.  Verizon has conducted successful interoperability trials while AT&T told attendees during a Monday panel that it is doing XGS-PON lab trials.

Software configurable bandwidth: For as far as the optical industry has come with innovations, service providers had always been beholden to their vendor suppliers to make updates, a process that could take months. In response, some vendors have been building what could be called software-configurable bandwidth applications.  

Building off its Instant Bandwidth application, Infinera put forth its Instant Network, which enables service providers to automate optical capacity engineering and scale optical capacity in minutes by using Infinera’s Xceed and Digital Node Administrator (DNA) software. Ciena’s Liquid Spectrum leverages its programmable optical layer capabilities, the capacity and telemetry data collection features of its WaveLogic AI coherent DSP, its Blue Planet Manager, Control and Plan (MCP) software platform.

Open optical networks: Unlike traditional telcos that have a long legacy of existing older equipment, Web 2.0 companies can start with a clean slate of using some form of an open optical network. Under the auspices of the Telecom Infrastructure Project (TIP), Facebook is exploring this approach, and has a project group looking at “Open Optical Packet Transport.” Telia Carrier participated in a TIP project demonstration where Facebook trialed the open optical network platforms on the carrier’s European fiber route.

By decoupling the terminal functions from the line system, customers that opt to use optical line systems (OLS) can evolve and optimize each network layer separately and to accommodate specific innovation cycles. However, IHS Markit said in a recent report that while many are considering OLS, more than half of the respondents said they “are undecided or not familiar with the technology.”

Another key initiative related to open optical systems is Open ROADM Reconfigurable Optical Add/Drop Multiplexers (ROADM). Led by large carriers like AT&T, the Open ROADM Multi-Source Agreement (MSA) defines interoperability specifications for ROADMs. AT&T conducted a trial of a 400 Gbps Ethernet (400GbE) connection over a live network link between New York and Washington, D.C. During the trial, AT&T used an SDN to create what it says was a “service along the direct path between the two cities, and through software control rerouted the service to a second path to simulate a response to a network failure.” The next phase will implement a 400GbE end-to-end service transported across AT&T’s OpenROADM metro network.

Wireless needs accelerate: OFC may not be a wireless show, but it’s clear that the optical network will and will have a large role to play in the wireless industry’s ongoing densification of 4G and migration to 5G. Optical continue to plays a big role in wireless, particularly as these sites are equipped with fiber-based back haul circuits.

Nokia and Ciena won large optical deals with Reliance Jio, an emerging wireless operator in India that scaled its subscriber base from 0 to over 1 million in a year. Likewise, Fujitsu, which released a number of new optical solutions targeting small cell and macro cell wireless deployments, revealed it won a contract with an unnamed Tier 1 wireless operator.

While optical may not have the same sizzle as it did in 1999, the ongoing need for more bandwidth means we’re heading into an era of practical rationality where bandwidth needs are calling for new ways of thinking about building networks.—Sean