3 January 2012 1:51:55 PM
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As we prepare for OFC/NFOEC 2012 in Los Angeles March 4-8, the fiber optics industry finds itself in strong shape, driven by a global pursuit of fiber to the residence and the need for optical transport to carry the excessive wireless traffic that is becoming part of everyday life.
At no time in the 30 years I have covered the fiber optics industry has there been this much optical fiber produced by those who can, this many lasers and detectors made from those who have the facilities, this much global demand for the stuff that makes fiber optic networks.
The global industry is still recovering from two natural disasters in 2011—the tsunami/earthquake in Japan that has led to a tightening of optical fiber cable supply, and flooding in Thailand that has caused the closure of two major Fabrinet plants, which represent a choke point for a substantial portion of the globe's optical components. Isao Sugino, director of the Research and Development Office of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications in Japan, will address the tsunami/earthquake impact at the OFC/NFOEC 2012 plenary session.
The disasters have had the effect of increasing the demand to unprecedented levels. Instead of producing products to help satisfy the robust global demand for optical fiber components, flooded northern Japan became part of the increasing demand for optical infrastructure. Corning, the largest maker of optical fiber in the world, produced more fiber in March, the same month the tsunami struck, as it had in any month in the history of the company.
2012 also is the first year 100 Gbps systems will be fully scaled up and reach full production to carry what are increasingly becoming enormous data loads. Driven by coherent technology engineered to push the photon to higher speeds and greater distances, there is no question that 100 G coherent optical represents an important milestone in the field of optical transport. Verizon, already a major innovator in bringing 100 G into its network, announced December 13 that it is preparing wide swaths of its network in America for 100 G. Verizon's Stuart Elby, keynote at the Service Provider Summit at OFCNFOEC 2012, is sure to provide some important color regarding the rollout.
Because OFC/NFOEC is seemingly just as good at revealing what will happen tomorrow as it is at demonstrating what is happening today, look for discussion regarding the next steps beyond 100 G. AT&T officials, for example, already have begun to discuss the new optical fiber parameters and network designs that will be required for 400 Gbps and 1 Tbps networks.
There is great excitement about a market that is still developing but that Intel, IBM, Cisco and others already are plowing millions of dollars into. Waveguides will play a critical role in next gen computers because only photons can move at the speeds necessary to transfer millions and billions of bits of data together across confined areas.
What will happen as individuals have up to a billion bits of information at their disposal? Google has been asking that question in its Kansas City project. An update from Google's Milo Medin, vice president of access networks, should be quite informative.
Data centers in some respects are becoming the new petri dishes for the optical transport industry. How do we efficiently store and transport literally billions of bits of information for ready access, short distances and out into the network? Keynote plenary speaker Greg Papadopoulos, former Sun Microsystems CTO, will address "How to Design and Build Your Very Own Exascale Computer."
It is even time to begin talking about what heretofore had largely been verboten. Optical fiber is starting to make it into peoples' residences. Initially, it has been via optical network terminals mainly in condos and apartments. But watch for direct fiber connections to video games, HDTVs, etc. Wherever electrons are sent, photons can do it better.
Through it all, the underlying foundations that have gotten fiber optics to where it is now remain in place. Optical fiber continues to replace copper and other less efficient transmission forms throughout the network.
Because of its extraordinary data-carrying capabilities, fiber optics will always be in a position to benefit as networks continue to fill. In fact, optical engineers already are issuing warnings about wireless networks that are getting too jammed without fiber conduit to help the traffic along. Fiber to the antenna is becoming a new paradigm.
These trends will all become part of the conversation at OFC/NFOEC 2012, the best show of its kind in fiber optics.