When the Service Providers Talk at OFCNFOEC, The Vendors Listen

The service providers sit atop the optical transport food chain. While these days carriers come in a variety of stripes and guises, the service providers are still the big boys with the most wampum - and the system and components vendors play off their lead.

Service providers play an integral role at OFCNFOEC 2012. The Service Provider Summit is a regular conference feature.

Glenn Wellbrock, Director of Optical Transport Network Architecture and Design at Verizon and a longtime OFCNFOEC attendee and presenter, told us he believes that software-defined optics will be a major topic of discussion at the show. “The physical piece, the optics piece, of software-defined optics will work,” he says. “But how do we take advantage of the functionality? What is the new switch or router that will be defined from this and how will they take advantage of it?”

There appears to be a divergence of opinion between Verizon and fellow service provider AT&T regarding next-generation single-mode fiber. Several AT&T officials already have stated that they want a new design for single-mode fiber to handle 100 Gbps and beyond. However Wellbrock says the standards are designed around the existing single-mode fiber and that it makes sense to stay within that same construct. While Verizon will continue to buy whatever new optical fiber comes along--Wellbrock says the Verizon network is living proof of that--he notes that the cost of replacing the entire existing base of single-mode fiber would be exorbitant. Having said that, Wellbrock notes that it was service providers like Verizon that drove the now popular bend-resistant fiber product for special FiOS in-home applications.

Another question sure to be discussed at OFCNFOEC 2012 is whether the next transmission speed will be 400 Gbps or 1 Tbps. Wellbrock continues to believe there is an argument to be made for jumping all the way to 1 Tbps, noting that the stopover to 40 Gbps, rather than going directly from 10 Gbps to 100 Gbps, was anything but smooth. “It's going to take time to make 100 gigs the new 10 gigs,” Wellbrock notes. “If it takes six years to go to a terabit, that's the amount of time it will take to get all the 100 gig gear into the network.”

Meanwhile, Wellbrock believes new versions of 100 gig may emerge at the show. The early vendors already are on their second releases of 100 gig, which costs less and requires less power. He notes that coherent optical already has had “a huge impact.” But while the focus has been at the receiver end, Glenn believes more digital signal processing could be built in at the front end, at the transmitter, and better soft forward error correction.

Service providers are still big clients for reconfigurable optical add drop multiplexers (ROADMs). Wellbrock says the industry is still looking for more functionality in the individual unit and new efforts are defined by NxM developments, which attempt to make three functions (colorless, directionless and contentionless) all in one. These efforts appear to be led by JDSU.

Glenn also sees major changes in amplification, often a hot topic at OFCNFOEC. There is a major drive to combine the advantages of erbium-doped fiber amplifiers and Raman amplifiers into single hybrid units, which makes more sense than putting the two back to back in long-haul networks, which is often now the case. He sees a time when networks are operating at 100 G or beyond when all of the amps will be hybrids.

Karen Liu, who is Service Provider Summit chair for OFCNFOEC 2012, says the summit is changing to reflect the changing realities of optical network challenges. The two panels at this year's summit, which runs on Wednesday March 7 from 8:30 am to 12:30 pm and spotlights Verizon's Stu Elby, are on collapsing layers in the network and the role of the network in the age of social media. “We need to work smarter, not harder, with the power of optics,” she says.

Liu, who is principal analyst for components at Ovum in the United States, says there already is quite a bit of activity regarding bringing passive optical networking out into the larger network, not just limiting it to the neighborhood.

It also is clear that the cycle of innovation is speeding up, she says. “Service providers are interacting directly with the technology creators,” she notes. “Technology is bubbling up much faster from the labs.”

Regarding 100 G, Liu sees a different application in the metro space from what it is in the long-haul network, and analogizes the situation to what happened between DWDM and CWDM as wavelength division multiplexing was coming into the network. We note that vendors already are introducing lower cost non-coherent 100 G for some applications.

Whatever happens, the service providers together with optical transport vendors, will figure it out thanks to conferences like OFCNFOEC which bring them all together.

If there is one thing that has become clear from OFCNFOEC it is that the optical transport network is constantly evolving and accepting new innovations. Often with the largest traffic levels to deal with, levels that recently have been ballooning thanks to wireless broadband, it is the service providers that are in first with the most orders, manning the battle lines if you will. And that fact, in a very real sense, is a major reason why the industry keeps moving at a fever pitch.

Posted: 3 February 2012 by C. David Chaffee, Founder and CEO, Chaffee Fiber Optics | with 0 comments
Filed under: 100G

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The views expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of The Optical Fiber Communication Conference and Exposition (OFC)  or its sponsors.