3 March 2011 1:15:44 PM
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by Rick Dodd
When discussing needed advances in optical networking nowadays, you can’t avoid talking about coherent technology, as evidenced by the many sessions planned on the topic during OFC/NFOEC’s Conference Program. The buzz around this subject is justified – the benefits of coherent optical transmission will allow tremendous increases in capacity while simplifying planning and deployment. However, let me go out on a limb and say that I think the concept of coherent may be underhyped. Coherent is such a fundamental shift in optical networking that it allows an opportunity for the industry to “think big” about the possibilities.
Network scale is of course key, and we can expect ample discussion at OFC/NFOEC of 100G, 400G, and terabit optical channels. But I’m especially interested in some of the work I’ve seen in Ciena’s preparation for the conference around new architectural capabilities and new ways to add programmability to the network. The concept of using a local oscillator to go gridless and recover another 30% of fiber spectrum, currently lost to guard bands, is intriguing. So too are some ideas about optical switching and optical broadcast. In all these examples it’s the arrival of a tunable receiver and the electronic coherent optical processor chip that allows the industry to think about new possibilities.
Finally, there is an oversimplified view out there that “all coherent is created equal.” But in fact, the programmability of a coherent optical processor is going to allow technologists and engineers ample opportunity to differentiate. In my view, it’s a situation similar to what’s existed with microprocessors or network processors: there may be multiple devices in the world which fit into a category like “network processor” or even someday “coherent optical processor,” but the capabilities enabled by different brands of devices will be vastly different. Our challenge as an industry is to “think big” about how coherent can make the network better, larger, more ubiquitous, and then make it real with silicon, software, and systems. I know we at Ciena are spending lots of time thinking about this and we look forward to sharing some ideas in LA.
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