Windstream Wholesale is out of the starter blocks with a commercial deployment of 400 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) with Everstream. The long-haul deployment across Windstream's fiber network connects Everstream's Chicago/Cleveland route with a signal.
"So this is not just an experiment," said Buddy Bayer, chief network officer at Windstream. "This is a real world revenue generating circuit for us. We have a lot of peers in this industry that we talk to quite a bit, and there's a lot of experimentation and lot of discussion going on around about 400 Gig. But this is the first one that we've really heard about where it's a real circuit with real revenue behind it."
For the Everstream deployment, Windstream worked with Infinera's Groove (GX) Series compact modular platforms and Juniper's PTX Series transport routers. Windstream provided the 400G Wavelength Service using Infinera's coherent wavelength technology.
Bayer credited the work done in Windstream's Little Rock lab earlier this year with Infinera for being able to boot up the commercial 400GbE connection with Everstream. In April, Windstream Holdings and Infinera paired 400GbE with client-side services with commercially available 400GbE-LR8 QSFP-DD compact pluggable interfaces. The trial used Infinera’s commercially available 2x 600G Wavelength muxponder on its Groove (GX) G30 Compact Modular Platform with the CHM-2T sled, which enabled the customer-facing 400GbE service to be transmitted using a single-carrier 600G wavelength.
"With the LR8, you now you have the optical reach for the long haul" Bayer said. "So going from seeing it in the lab environment to now getting it onto our network live with a real customer is pretty exciting."
The two primary customer segments for 400G to date been data center operators looking to interconnect two or more data centers, or service providers that want to build metro rings consisting of 400G lines on which they then would lease capacity to data center operators or enterprises through a data center interconnection (DCI) as-a-service offering.
Windstream has been aggressive about working with vendors such as Infinera and Ciena in its labs in order to provision 400G services.
"This kind of put us in the driver's seat from our consumers' perspective," Bayer said. "We get to take all their questions and all their needs and put them right inside of those labs and trials and create solutions around them."
While Cisco and Juniper have done their work around 400G for routers, the optical side has been slower on the uptake, according to Jimmy Yu, vice president and analyst for the optical transport market at Dell’Oro Group.
"So the fact that Everstream is going to be the first announced paying customer really speaks to the fact that they (Windstream) have gone full throttle on getting this not only up, but getting it running and getting a customer," Yu said. "It does seem like they are kind of hitting the market first among service providers."
As further evidence of its optical ambitions, Yu also pointed to Windstream's work with Ciena for the build-out of Windstream's new nationwide optical network, which is slated for turn up in the third quarter of this year.
Bayer and Yu expect 400G long-haul deployments will ramp up around the middle of next year after a few smaller launches near the end of this year. Bayer said the cost model for deploying 400G needs to come down for wide-scale adoption.
"I think the typical cost curve hasn't kicked in yet," Bayer said. "It's supply and demand. As soon as there's a demand on the 400G side, we're going to see the cost come way down. You're going to see cost models where it's cheaper to turn up one 400 Gig as it is for turning up two 100 Gigs. We're not there yet.
"The router blades are in the same supply and demand curves that the transport optics are in."
Both Bayer and Yu said ZR pluggable optics, which will be for the longer spans of up to up to 120 kilometers, would start to become more widely available next year. Using ZR and ZR Plus pluggable optics allows service providers to eliminate transponders in the their WDM wavelength-division multiplexing) networks.
"IR8 is absolutely a good technology and it gave us the reach that we needed for 400 Gig, but ZR optics is another level of performance at a lower cost point," Bayer said. "ZR is a lot lower cost point that's going to be more appealing. I think that's when you start to really see 400 Gig take off because now you can take that pluggable and put it in a router or transport gear. I think that'll really kind of stir the nest for demand for 400G.
Yu said that while ZR is standards-based ZR Plus is not. ZR Plus could span up to 1,000 kilometers but may not fit on a switch or router.
"One of the advantages of ZR is everyone wants to put the pluggable on an Ethernet switch or router instead of on an optical system," Yu said. "It's not clear to me if ZR Plus can be put on a router or just go on an optical system but now it's going to be more pluggable."
400G ZR and the longer-distance 400G ZR Plus will bring interoperability, and with that, potentially lower cost to 400G deployments as companies deploying 400G have more options to mix and match different vendors.
"ZR Plus will probably be generally available mid next year," Bayer said. "ZR Plus is a lot lower cost point and that's going to be more appealing. It's not available to us yet, but as soon as it is we're right in the labs and environments with it. We're ready to go."