Fitting sustainable coherent optics in the palm of your hand

palm of the hand
Image by Aleksandra Aleroeva | Bigstockphoto

Today, we can deliver 400Gb/s connectivity through pluggables fitting in the palm of your hand, but we’re now set to see 1.6Tb/s per wavelength in the next few years.

Hyperscalers (also known as Internet Content Providers) are often the fastest adopters of the latest and greatest technology. They understand that more speed, reach, and capacity enable them to scale up their networks and set the pace of innovation. The rapid advances of these cloud-based services have become the foundations for enterprise digital transformation that relies on a flexible multi-cloud environment. In fact, Asia Pacific (APAC) is expected to be the fastest-growing region in the hyperscale data centers market.

The need to set the pace and technology agenda is driving technological evolutions at the network level to help them – and the networking sector generally – make huge leaps forward. In Singapore, the government plans to roll out a new national blueprint that outlines plans for 6G mobile and a 10Gbps home broadband network, up from 1Gbps. Dubbed Digital Connectivity Blueprint, it will also include plans to have more subsea cables to boost digital trade and data flow through the nation, which will, in turn, attract more investments here. This technology prowess will allow us to deliver more bandwidth and a better end-user experience than ever before. 

As networks scale in size and speed, everything within it tends to shrink to enable these leaps forward: processors, components, latency, the distance between the end-user and the data center (leading us to edge networking), and more are all shrinking. 

Pluggables that fit in the palm of your hand

It means that today, we can deliver 400Gb/s connectivity through pluggables that fit in the palm of your hand. Optical fibers laid a decade ago can now carry significantly more traffic down the same fiber, using more wavelengths than ever before through incredible advances in coherent optical technology. It feels like only yesterday that 40G and 100G were being tested and deployed (it was actually about 13 years ago now!), but we’re now set to see 1.6Tb/s per wavelength in the next few years.

But our constant need for more speed, cloud connectivity and capacity cannot come at the cost to the environment. Network providers and their partners are tasked with the challenge of decreasing carbon emissions while also meeting the surging demands for high-bandwidth cloud services. As our network capabilities increase, the emissions and power consumption to support the network must decrease. 

Thankfully, as network components shrink, so too does another aspect of the network itself: its carbon footprint. 

Empowering sustainability goals with innovation

Networking infrastructure – everything from the fiber networks that build the cloud as well as bring customers to the cloud, to the data centers themselves – consume around 2.5% of the world’s electricity, or around 500TWh, per year. In particular, APAC is a key player in global energy consumption and a major source of GreenHouse Gas (GHG) emissions. If these projections are true and the growth of internet traffic volume increases eightfold by 2030, the internet could be responsible for an additional 1.7 billion tons of GHG emissions per year. 

Conscious of these estimates, many network operators have released net zero targets to address their role in the decarbonization of the planet. As more APAC countries commit to net zero targets, decarbonizing emissions from business operations has even become part of the criteria granting a license to operate for companies in the region.

Network operators’ technology partners

To meet these targets, network operators across the globe are now examining not only their own operations but that of their supply chain and within their network. They also look for technology partners to help meet these goals by providing increased scalability and adaptability, better capacity, reduced latency, as well as a reduction in power consumption. In fact, making a network hum sustainably is now a prerequisite of business.   

Thankfully, a green energy transition is gaining momentum in APAC as technologies evolve to become faster while reducing costs and emissions. 

Eco-friendly evolution of coherent optics

New coherent optical innovations can drive significant reductions in power consumption per transported bit of data. These innovations will no doubt meet the ever-growing bandwidth demand – whether that be across metro, long haul or subsea architectures. 400G coherent optics are now being widely deployed, and we are already seeing more network operators deploy 800G-capable fiber networks and looking forward to the 1.6T era. 

The growth in 800G adoption coincides with this continued focus on making networks more energy efficient. With each new generation of coherent optics, the power required per bit of information transmitted is being reduced, networks are more energy efficient and therefore, more sustainable. These efficiency gains are a key competitive differentiator and support network operators’ sustainability goals, offering large reductions in both footprint and energy consumption.

Development is well underway to deliver the next generation of coherent technology, making it possible to provide 1.6Tb/s single-carrier wavelengths for metro ROADM networks and at least 800G everywhere else, including over the longest subsea links.

From a sustainability standpoint, the hardware required to enable the transmission of this huge amount of data is shrinking both in size and the number of components required across a network to hit these benchmarks. Transmission capacity can be doubled with the same footprint and result in a 50% power-per-bit reduction while enabling network operators to scale their networks to address future requirements. 

Less power, less space, less cost

The continued evolution of silicon microelectronics is powering the ongoing improvements in coherent optical technology. Today, the lowest in power silicon is the state-of-the-art 3nm, which is being used to power the next generation of coherent optics: both the industry’s first 200Gbaud coherent digital signal processors for 1.6Tb/s transmission, as well as 800G pluggables. The latter doubles the capacity of previous coherent pluggables within the same pluggable footprint, delivering substantial long-term sustainability benefits to network operators through lower power consumption and space efficiencies. 

Coherent technology innovations offer significant long-term energy efficiency gains to network operators, radically reducing the optical transport carbon footprint while enabling the network to scale. This is important, as future networking needs must not harm the environment. Our technology choices must support the emerging net zero requirements of network operators, their customers, regulatory agencies and governments. While our ongoing need for bandwidth continues to increase, it’s imperative that carbon footprint and the subsequent e-waste does not increase with it. 

Carbon footprint

This ensures that networks, be they greenfield projects or existing architectures, can continue to scale without increasing their carbon footprint. In fact, with coherent technology, it’s more likely that power per bit decreases over time, and with it, the carbon footprint, as well as more renewable energy, is pumped into the grid. 

Network operators driving these changes can now look at their networks and see the green shoots of a decarbonized future, allowing them to continue to set the innovation agenda for networking across the planet. As network technologies and, specifically, innovations in coherent optics continue to evolve, the carbon footprint and power consumption of the network will decrease, allowing for the scale we all require to meet tomorrow’s needs. 

Fitting in the palm of your hand

 Contributed by Steve Alexander, Chief Technology Officer of Ciena

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