Editor’s Corner—400G, automation, open networks and DCI dominated OFC 2018’s headlines

CenturyLink data center
The top five trends from this year's OFC trade show included scaling up of networks and data center interconnections. (CenturyLink)
Sean Buckley

After leaving behind my family, Northeast community and yet another large snowstorm for this year’s OFC show in San Diego, I thought it would be a good time to look back at the key trends that were seen at last week’s show.

OFC, like other trade shows, has often evolved with the key trends of the day and this year was no different. Optical players and their service provider customers—a list that’s also evolving to include telcos, data center providers, cable operators and even social media companies—are positioning networks in new ways.

While some might debate our choices, which I do welcome, there were five I saw this year:

400G migration/evolution begins: Even in the face of spending slowdowns due to some megamergers, the talk of the town is clearly about 400G. Optical vendors like Adva, Ciena, Nokia and Infinera were touting their 400G plans.

Ciena and Juniper recently completed a joint 400G trial with Verizon, for example. This trial illustrated how 400G transmission and router technology can be used to apply in networks to satisfy bandwidth demands being driven by video streaming, virtual reality and cloud computing.

No less aggressive were Infinera and Nokia. Infinera put out a 1 Tbps optical engine with claims of greater bandwidth and lower power, and introduced ICE5, a 2.4 Tbps optical engine that is the latest addition to the company’s family of Infinite Capacity Engines. Nokia released a Photonic Service Engine (PSE) 3 chipset family of coherent digital signal processors. What’s different about Nokia's approach is the ability to offer “finely adjustable wavelength capacity” to support an array of speeds from 100G to 600G.

Despite the excitement around 400G, Adva continues to cycle through plenty of 100G and even 10G sales. The optical vendor said it does not expect 400G won’t likely hit its stride until about 2021.

Consolidation continues: OFC attendees also saw a bit of optical component consolidation during the show as Lumentum reached a deal to acquire Oclaro for $1.8 billion. By acquiring Oclaro, Lumentum will become one of the largest optical component manufacturers. By acquiring Oclaro, Lumentum gains Indium Phosphide laser and Photonic Integrated Circuit and coherent component and module capabilities. Some analysts hailed this deal as possibly the first shot of consolidation in the optical component industry. "The long-awaited industry consolidation may have just started with Lumentum (deal)," said Troy Jensen, a Piper Jaffray analyst.

Open networks emerging: The notion of optical networks conversation continued this year. AT&T, for one, revealed that it is going into live network deployments of the OpenROADM concept it helped pioneer in Dallas. The service provider said in a blog post that it plans to scale deployments via multiple vendors and an optical SDN controller integrated into ECOMP. Today, Open ROADM has 15 members. Besides AT&T and various vendors, other large global service providers include SK Telecom, Orange, Rostelecom, Saudi Telecom Company, Telecom Italia, and Deutsche Telekom.

But AT&T is not the only one driving open optical networking concepts.

The Facebook-developed Voyager concept, which Facebook contributed to the Telecom Infrastructure Project (TIP), is getting attention from other larger Tier 1 service providers. As an open packet-optical transport system that combines DWDM technology with switching and routing functionality. Through its partnership with Adva, Linux software vendor Cumulus plans to launch Linux several Voyager trials with Vodafone, NYSERNet, Internet2, GRnet, and CESNET. Cumulus offers a L2/L3 stack and an open Linux model that it says gives service providers fabric-wide optical network visibility.

Fiber deep networks, wireless densification: As cable and wireless operators densify their fiber networks to satisfy current and future 5G and business services demands, vendors are positioning themselves to provide products that can fit these opportunities. As part of its One Fiber initiative, Verizon has placed large fiber cable orders with Corning and Prysmian to satisfy next-gen 5G and enterprise service needs. Cable operators are also embarking on what’s known as fiber deep, a concept where MSOs push fiber ever closer to customers to provide consumer and business customers better service. By amplifiers and pushes the optical-to-electrical conversion closer to subscribers, cable MSOs can increase potential bandwidth to homes and businesses while reducing power and maintenance costs.

Ciena, for example, has responded with its 8180 Coherent Networking Platform and 6500 Reconfigurable Line System, two platforms it says can support densification initiatives in applications such as cable Fiber Deep, Data Center Interconnect (DCI), and 4G/5G.

"One of the trends we’re seeing is the increasing acceleration of fiber densification initiatives from our customers," said Helen Xenos, senior director of portfolio marketing for Ciena. "What we mean is they are upgrading their networks and packing more capacity within the same footprint. We are seeing this happen in the wireless industry and the cable industry."

Infinera, likewise, is looking to achieve a similar goal with its ICE-5 Tbps-capable platform. The platform, which can deliver 100 to 600 Gbps in a 2.4 Tbps optical engine, is also focused on targeting fiber deep networks and other network densification efforts put forth by service providers.

Scaling for data center interconnection (DCI): One area where vendors and others see an immediate opportunity is for data center interconnection (DCI). Driven by large and regional data center providers like Equinix, Cologix, and Digital Realty, DCI is important as it provides access to multiple ISPs, which is important if a business or carrier customer is selling globally. Like wireless and cable network densification, DCI will require high capacity fiber counts and platforms that can support high bandwidth between and within data centers to exchange traffic between carriers and support cloud providers and their customers. A growing group of dark fiber-centric like Summit IG and even incumbents like CenturyLink have been rapidly building fiber to these facilities.

Interestingly, Adva sees DCI as a prime initial target for 400G because it has raw bandwidth are more immediate.

Niall Robinson, VP of business development for Adva, told FierceTelecom that “I think the first to really to have an application for that kind of density will be the DCI space.”

OFC 2018 may be over, but the trends that we saw at this year’s show will likely be on the mind of industry watchers in 2018. A big question for many remains is how will the rampant consolidation of the service provider industry influence new buying decisions? As the year plays out and large deals like CenturyLink/Level 3 and even smaller players like Cincinnati Bell/Hawaiian Telcom go through clarity will likely follow.—Sean @FierceTelecom