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International Flair for OFC

By Casimer DeCusatis

Reflecting on the key takeaways from the 2017 OFC conference, I was struck by the increased presence of telecom operators and equipment manufacturers from rapidly growing markets such as China. While OFC remains an international event with over 65 countries represented, there’s a clear trend to support emerging internet and telecom service providers in some of the highest population density nations in the world. The three largest telecom operators in China have installed both 4G and FTTx subscriptions which far exceed those in other parts of the world; it’s arguable that 2017 was the year in which China became the global leader in this space. 

For example, the OIDA Executive Forum opened with a presentation from the Deputy General Manager at China Mobile Technology. He discussed the historical growth of the company, including a significant increase in the number of ports at different locations in the network. Not only has the network port count gone up in the past two years, but there are ambitious plans to roll out even more ports and higher density optical component technologies between now and 2020. Such dramatic growth brings to mind the photonics market boom in the late 1990s, and subsequent market crash a few years later. This point was not lost on the Executive Forum, which concluded with an open discussion on whether such growth was sustainable. Interestingly, most of the major players think it is; companies such as Hisense, Macom, and Oclaro feel that the current photonics and telecom markets are more stable this time around due to their reliance on a more diverse set of applications. 

Continuing this trend, companies such as Huawei expect strong demand for 100 Gbit/s photonics in 2017 (despite a relatively weak first quarter and a slowing down of market growth compared with 2016). Huawei also demonstrated an unrepeated, ultra-long haul (just under 650 km) submarine system at this data rate during the conference. They weren’t the only company pushing optical interfaces for telecom, either.

At the Nokia Bell Labs Shannon Theatre on the OFC conference floor, groundbreaking undersea optical network trials were showcased side-by-side with new optical data center architecture. Nokia also announced high speed optical interconnects which demonstrate how high speed telecom technology is being leveraged for data communication and cloud computing applications. This includes their photonics service switch for cloud providers with a 100G digital signal processor optimized for metro Ethernet applications and repackaging of their Photonic Services Platform technology into a data center friendly form factor. 

There’s also significant interest in even higher data rates, although the industry trajectory is less clear. Google had called for 200 Gbit/s rates at last year’s OFC plenary and noted the compelling cost per bit performance of this technology. Meanwhile, other high volume users such as Facebook and Microsoft said this year that they would jump directly to 400 Gbit/s rates, saying that their applications could not justify the investment in anything slower. Cisco also claimed they would invest exclusively in 400 Gbit/s data rates, a position which was reinforced at the 2017 Cisco Live meeting in Las Vegas. The discussion on higher data rates is in stark contrast to some industry reports from late 2016 which had suggested that the 100G metro market is over-hyped, and which predicted an upcoming consolidation of vendors in this space. Whether the current and future expectations for revenue derived from higher data rates are justified or not remains to be seen, and will likely continue to be debated at future OFC conferences. 

While the push for more ports and higher data rates was reflected by many large companies, the growth rate and new product introductions within the China market seem to far outstrip other geographies. Telecom operators have historically been a major part of OFC, and are now sharing the stage with Internet and Cloud Service Providers. Are you gearing up for another major increase in port counts and data rates, or trying to hedge your bets with a jump to much higher data rates and lower port counts? Drop me a line on Twitter (@Dr_Casimer), and maybe I’ll use your comments in a future blog.

Posted: 21 September 2017 by Casimer DeCusatis | with 0 comments

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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.