100G, 200G, 400G: Internet’s core is getting fatter to meet our tech planet’s bandwidth demand

Network of stars

Optical networks are getting bigger, beefier and faster — thanks to a slew of new technologies. It has now become commonplace to hear about optical networks, mostly in the Internet’s backbone, supporting speeds of 100 gigabits per second (Gbps). And to add some context, in 1990 the state of the art was 2.5 Gbps.

This bulkiness of the backhaul networks is happening because we are spending more of our lives online. Internet access and connectivity are now essential to our daily lives, and there is hardly a part of business which has been left untouched. In my post, “ZipCar, Google, cars and the inevitability of the Internet”, I argued that technologies will influence even the most mundane of industries. Just as most of the planet will develop a silicon heartbeat, networks will act like its nervous system — increasing need for bandwidth.

And, thanks to these 100G deployments, the optical industry has had one of its better quarters in recent memory. According to data released by Infonetics Research, a market research company, the global optical hardware demand during April-to-June 2013 was a whopping $3.3 billion.

What is driving the sales?  Andrew Schmitt, principal analyst for optical at Infonetics Research, points to the demand for 100G, which is now hitting mainstream level deployments.

“WDM [wavelength division multiplexing] spending accelerated dramatically in North America as a result of 100G deployments hitting the ground, and worldwide spending on 100G speeds is tracking close to 15% of all optical spending,” Schmitt adds. “China’s 100G deployments will begin in earnest as the year closes, led by China Mobile, and we’re anticipating more than 5,000 ports of 100G in China alone in 2013.”

The boom in demand for optical has helped Huawei, Alcatel-Lucent and ZTE become the top three market share leaders (in that order). But that doesn’t mean others aren’t doing well. Ciena is going to see a big bump from its close relationship with AT&T and Verizon as those two companies start to accelerate the rollout of 100G technologies. Verizon was early to adopt 100G and deployed its first 100G network route in 2009.

And the networks aren’t stopping at 100G. And if AT&T and Verizon get serious about selling us 100 megabit per seconds connections anytime soon, it won’t be long before those 100G pipes are packed shifting information. Even today, without those fat last mile pipes we are pushing around a lot of data on the Internet and hence the need for speed.

The growing popularity of video streaming and the emergence of more and more connected devices means that our need for bandwidth is going to grow, both in the core (backbone) and access (metro and last-mile) networks. Verizon is doing field trials of a new technology from Ciena that allows it to use specialized software to increase the spectral efficiency of the networks and thus double the capacity of its 100G network. Verizon showed it off as part of a field trial over its 260-mile ultra-long haul network between Boston and New York. The trial was conducted for a month.

ImageThe Coherent Optical technology used in this network reduces the amount of amplification necessary to send the optical signals (that carry data) over a greater distance without the additional loss of signal quality. According to Infonetics:

  • Among survey respondents, by 2015 coherent wavelengths will account for 68% of deployments in the core and 29% in the metro
  • 100G will rise from just 5% of deployed wavelengths in 2012 to 37% in 2015

Not to be outdone, Sprint has concluded a 400 Gbps trial using Ciena gear. The company conducted this trial in the Silicon Valley area on a live network. Earlier this year, Sprint trialed and deployed a 100 Gbps network (running between Chicago and Fort Worth, Texas) that required no regeneration of optical signal over a distance of 1,304 miles. Sprint is now looking at boosting its network to 400 Gbps, using Ciena’s Coherent Optical technologies.

Schmitt, when talking to me for a previous article, had pointed out that when there is a 4x improvement in networking gear, things get interesting. If he is right, then we are entering a whole different phase in the networks business — thanks to you sharing too many Snapchats and binge-watching Orange Is The New Black.

You're subscribed! If you like, you can update your settings


Comments have been disabled for this post