The future of fibre optics
A NUMBER OF RECENT TRENDS AND DEVELOPMENTS IN OPTICAL FIBRE TECHNOLOGY HAVE BEEN HELPING HARD PRESSED CARRIERS TO FACE UP TO THE FUTURE. GUY MATTHEWS EXAMINES THE CHALLENGES THAT THESE INNOVATORS HAVE FACED
Optical fibre technology remains of central importance to network operators as they seek to make sense of recent explosive growth in network traffic.
In the last year or two, there have been developments in the science of optical fibre, some major and some minor, which between them offer confidence that the technology will continue to deliver into the future. This innovation has impacted every aspect of fibre connectivity, whether in the directly attached fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) and fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) deployments that are transforming home entertainment and the delivery of business services, in metro and backhaul networks or in the giant longhaul systems that are steadily shrinking the globe and introducing emergent economies onto the global grid (see boxout on page 64).
Developments are boosting the power of new build fibre networks, and helping to sustain older systems by breathing new life into connections that would otherwise be nearing obsolescence.
“We now have mission-critical low-loss fibres for longer distance links, such as the latest subsea builds which enable higher bandwidth to be delivered,” says Mervyn Kelly, marketing director with optical fibre equipment vendor Ciena. “These new fibres need to work seamlessly across a network where the vast majority of traffic is carried over existing fibres, combining to help operators differentiate their services and gain competitive advantage in a highly-challenging marketplace.”
All optical fibre, old and new, has part to play as carriers invest in the foundations of tomorrow’s self-driving, autonomous, software-driven networks. Innovations are helping to make these networks more intelligent and programmable than ever before.
For the first time, network operators are gaining the ability to determine what the optimal capacity is for a particular path across the network, as well as the ability to strategically tune in to different capacity levels to address the unpredictability of web-scale demands.
“We’ve built this functionality into our new Wavelogic platform which will change the outlook for optical networks,” claims Kelly. “Having the flexibility to tune a channel to the optimal capacity for a specific path is critical for reducing costs. If that elasticity does not already exist in the network, these channels will its end up running with far too much margin and costs will inevitably start to increase.”
By preparing the network with unprecedented levels of tunability, he says, operators can customise channels to the optimum capacity for any application, from metro to trans-pacific submarine. When coupled with access to real-time monitoring information, network operators will be in a far better position, he believes, to determine how efficiently the network is working and make autonomous and intelligent decisions to affect it.
Taking intermediate steps
Away from the deep blue oceans and down at the level of the access network, the old GPON standard that has been the basis of countless directly attached fibre links into home and businesses is being superseded by newer and more flexible standards. XGS-PON has emerged as an intermediate step between GPON and an even newer generation of passive optical network (PON) deployments. In time XGS-PON will probably be supplanted by NG-PON2, but has a medium term role in allowing operators to support symmetrical 10Gbps applications, avoiding the more capital intensive