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Infinera 2021 Predictions: Optical Networking - A Year of Hope, COVID Ripples, 800G, Open/Disaggregated, and Multipoint Optics

vmblog 2021 prediction series 

Industry executives and experts share their predictions for 2021.  Read them in this 13th annual series exclusive.

2021 Predictions for Optical Networking: A Year of Hope, COVID Ripples, 800G, Open/Disaggregated, and Multipoint Optics

By Tim Doiron, Sr. Director, Marketing, Infinera

2020 was certainly a year of change, not only in our personal lives but in the way we connect with each other and the networks we rely upon to provide that connectivity.  As this unique and challenging year comes to an end, here are some trends in optical networking that we expect to see in 2021.


COVID-19 Abates but Leaves Lasting Impacts

While we expect to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021, it will leave some lasting imprints on our work life and the networks that serve them.  One of the biggest is the rise of the remote worker.  With so many people successfully working remotely, companies have had a front-row seat to a global workforce experiment.  Companies like Twitter have announced employees can work from home "forever" if they so desire (source link).  Of course, not every job is perfect for working from home.  Facebook estimates that half of its organization will continue to work remotely within the next five to 10 years.  In September 2020, Google announced that it intends to try "hybrid" work-from-home (source link).  All this is to say that one of the lasting impacts of COVID-19 will be increased work flexibility for many workers, with the work location defined more by access to tools (for example, a laptop) and network connectivity than a physical space.

Public Support for Broadband Networks Increases

With many students doing distance learning and parents working from home, COVID-19 put a spotlight on the criticality of our broadband networks.  Remote education and remote work are simply not possible without access to a reliable, high-capacity broadband connection (wired or wireless).  If we needed any additional proof that broadband connectivity is critical to student learning and the health of our economies, 2020 gave it to us.  As a result, we expect to see increased support for public funding of broadband networks to ensure quality high-speed connections across physical geographies and socio-economically diverse neighborhoods.  As one example, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) ReConnect Program is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in grants and loans to bring high-speed broadband connectivity to rural and underserved areas.  In addition, the 2020 CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act provided incremental funding to the program. Such support will only increase in 2021 (source link).

800G Coherent DWDM Goes Mainstream

800G fifth-generation coherent DWDM optical solutions are ramping deployments in 2021.  It is conventional wisdom that the headline rate of each successive generation of coherent DWDM technology is limited to 100-200 km reach.  However, fifth-generation technology is changing the game.  800 Gb/s per wavelength transmission has been demonstrated in live service provider networks, including 950 km with a major North American operator, 730 km at Windstream, and over 670 km at Verizon.  The underlying technologies like 96 GBaud symbol rates, third-generation digital subcarriers, and long-codeword probabilistic constellation shaping are enabling dramatically superior performance vs. prior generations at 800G but also at 600G and 400G. The ability to provide increased capacity per fiber with fewer wavelengths and less equipment creates a compelling economic benefit for fifth-generation coherent adoption.  2021 is the year of fifth-generation 800G ramping network adoption.

Open and Disaggregated Becomes an Expectation

Tightly integrated networking solutions like routers and packet optical transport equipment, where a single vendor supplies all the hardware and embedded software, has been the norm and served our industry well.  However, such solutions can limit the pace of innovation and choice for service providers.  By disaggregating and utilizing well-defined open interfaces such as OpenConfig and Open ROADM, we can isolate portions of a networking solution to accelerate innovation, enable more choice, and optimize economics.  As an example, service providers that are upgrading their 5G transport networks are increasingly interested in disaggregated routing solutions like the Telecom Infra Project's Disaggregated Cell Site Gateway (DCSG), where the IP/MPLS software stack is disassociated from the underlying white box hardware.  We are also seeing the rise of open optical networking, where transponder/muxponder modules powered by next-generation optical engines like Infinera's ICE6 are disaggregated from the underlying optical line system.  Open optical networking means that the pace of optical engine innovation and the associated transponder/muxponder functionality can be accelerated while enabling broader industry deployment as these modules can be run over any vendor's optical line system.  We expect 2021 to be an inflection point in service provider attitudes, where open and disaggregated becomes the norm instead of the exception.

Multipoint Pluggable Optics Emerge from the Lab

As the optical networking industry continues to miniaturize and optimize packaging and power, we are seeing the emergence of coherent DWDM pluggable modules like 400G ZR that can be plugged directly into a network infrastructure, like optical transport equipment and switches and routers.  While beneficial for some applications like point-to-point metro-distributed data center interconnect, such solutions are not architecturally revolutionary.  Point-to-multipoint pluggable optics, on the other hand, are all about revolutionizing network architectures.  With support for 16 individually assignable 25 Gb/s subcarriers in a single pluggable 400G optic, service providers can reduce and/or eliminate intermediate electrical aggregation points in the network where low-speed interfaces like 25 Gb/s at the edge are aggregated into N x 100 Gb/s interfaces.  An analysis conducted with British Telecom and formalized in a white paper at ECOC demonstrated that multipoint optics can deliver a 76% total cost of ownership savings for BT over a five-year period.  With compelling economics like this, active global service provider engagements, and engineering development progressing, we expect 2021 to be the year when multipoint optics emerge from the lab and move into service provider networks.

So, those are my top 5 predictions for 2021.  If you have a favorite top 5 list, please share it with me at  I wish all of you a safe, joyful, and prosperous 2021.



About the Author

Tim Doiron 

Tim Doiron is Sr. Director, Solution Marketing at Infinera, where he focuses on innovative networking solutions that include coherent optical transmission, IP/MPLS routing, next-generation mobile transport, and broadband evolution with distributed access architecture (DAA) and edge computing. Tim is a frequent speaker at industry conferences and has authored numerous articles. He holds an MBA from Webster University, an M.S. in electrical engineering from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, and a B.S. in electrical engineering from Southern Illinois University.
Published Thursday, December 10, 2020 11:02 AM by David Marshall
VMblog 2021 Industry Experts Video Predictions Series - Episode 4 : @VMblog - (Author's Link) - January 18, 2021 9:50 AM
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