The Fundamentals of Optical Networks:

A Guide for the Network Operator

Networks need to be faster and more capable of handling vast amounts of data than ever before. Here’s how network operators are simultaneously advancing and simplifying their networks for maximum efficiency and higher performance.

What’s New with Fiber? The Never-Ending Move to Higher Speed and Bandwidth

The exponential demand for connectivity and bandwidth driven by cloud computing, video streaming, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), 5G and more is pushing the limits of existing network architectures.

On a global scale, network operators continue to evolve legacy hybrid fiber coax (HFC) networks to new, fiber-deep distributed access architectures (DAAs). Others are going down the route of rolling out greenfield FTTH networks to meet the speed and capacity requirements of end users for years to come.

From data center interconnect (DCI) to radio access networks (RAN), Metro Ethernet, Passive Optical Networks and more, faster speeds and higher bandwidths are in high demand. From 10G to 25G CPRI, from conventional GPON 10G links to XGS-PON 100G links, from 100G to 400G and beyond in the access network, one thing is clear: network operators are looking for scalable solutions that will help them meet spikes in demand now and in the future.

A Word on 5G: Why 400G Matters

A large part of the conversation around the future of optical networking has to do with 5G. The shift to this new cellular standard is not just about deploying small cells as close to end-users as possible – a part of our modern edge computing paradigm. It will also involve a widespread shift to 400G networking on the part of mobile service providers, MSOs, data center operators, carriers and anyone else involved in making the promises of 5G a reality.

All the new technologies businesses and consumers are eager to leverage with 5G require extremely low latency connections between devices, small cells, data centers and the cloud. By relying on edge architectures, 5G demands not only greater fiber densification at the edge, but also significantly higher data rates on existing fiber networks. That is where 400G comes in, offering carriers, MSOs, data center operators and other service providers the ability to future-proof their networks for all 5G demands, and more.

What Are the Challenges of Upgrading Speed and Bandwidth in a Legacy Access Network?

Though all aspects of a network are critical in reliable service delivery, the access network has become an exciting frontier. The main reason for this is because access networks feature many links that leverage diverse protocols and data rates. As a result, it can be complex to adapt parts of them to higher bandwidth and speeds – interoperability becomes a paramount concern.

When heading above 10Gbps, network operators must also contend with issues around optical link budgets, signal-to-noise ratios and chromatic dispersion. Additional amplification always brings an increase in noise while digital signal processors (DSPs) and forward error correction (FEC) add complexity, power, latency and general interoperability concerns. Fortunately, new developments in optical technology can help operators save considerably on their network evolutions.

Investing in Upgrading an Access Network is Costly. How Can You Reduce TCO?

Modern access networks serve many different types of structures from cell towers, enterprise buildings and multi-dwelling units (MDUs) to data centers, aggregation sites, schools, and sports stadiums. The new trend in access networking is a focus on low latency data transmission across shorter distances, often less than 40km. When it comes to answering the PAM4 vs. coherent optics question at this range, network operators need to consider three key requirements:

  1. Need for 100G DWDM for speed and capacity to meet present and future requirements
  2. The simplicity and cost savings offered by using a common transceiver form factor like QSFP28
  3. Data transmission at the 40km distance without a need for any external transport equipment, amplifiers, etc.
PRE-QSFP28 P4AR

Toward the end of 2020, the Precision OT team unveiled the first and only commercial 100G DWDM QSFP28 switch pluggable transceiver that does not require DCM or other specialized equipment for transmission up to 40km. Referred to as PAM4 Access Reach (P4AR™), this will help meet network operator demand for enormous yet affordable performance boosts (4TB max capacity) that are compatible with existing network infrastructure.

What Are Some Other Tools That Create Smarter, More Agile Networks?

Besides innovative breakthroughs, other tools exist to help network operators build smarter, more agile networks. Here are the three that stand out to us: Software Defined Networks, Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI), and White Box Technology.

  1. SDN
    SDN can provide flexible and scalable network architectures for telcos needing to adapt to the changing demands of digital transformation. They also support the seamless deployment of new applications and the equipment needed to support them.

  2. Machine Learning/Artificial Intelligence
    Machine learning and AI are being leveraged to power SDN analytics applications that optimize networks and monitor for predictive maintenance, preventing failures and maximizing uptime. Many analytics applications only focus on higher layers of a network and on specific applications for their own networks and equipment. To meet this market gap, we developed Lightseer, the industry’s first technology designed to monitor and analyze physical layers of optical SDNs. Lightseer’s predictive analysis tool provides network administrators with real-time data all the way down to transceivers and individual optical links. It’s compatible with white box networking equipment and off-the-shelf SDN controllers.
  3. White Box Technology
    White box technology eliminates the dependence on legacy networking equipment from traditional vendors. They can deliver open-source information between different brands of networking equipment and are able to provide major cost savings and flexibility.

The world of optical networking is always advancing. As you look to meet the demands of today while future-proofing your networks for tomorrow, you’re going to need a partner who truly has your back. The optical equipment manufacturing sector is broad, with more choice than ever in vendors. So, how can you figure out who might make the right partner for you?

Three Things to Look for in a Vendor

With network operators under pressure to deliver higher speeds and bandwidth across backbone, metro and access networks, the need for a reliable optical network equipment provider has only increased.
How can you be certain that the company you rely on for transceivers and other optical equipment is more than just another vendor? How can you trust that they will have your back in tricky or complex situations? The answer lies in looking for the following three qualities in your optical network equipment provider:

  1. Reliable Inventory
  2. Engineering Support
  3. Custom Solutions

Most importantly, pick a provider that is more than just an equipment manufacturer. Full lifecycle support, laboratory testing and expertise in all types of network architectures can ensure you get the most out of your spending. You need expert engineers on hand, not just sales reps.

Got questions? We have answers.

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