OFC 2016 Preview

OFC is just a few short weeks away now, and some key themes are coming into focus for the conference. Registered users may read this article, no subscription required.

100G Inside the Datacenter Goes Prime Time

First and foremost of these will be the surge of demand in 2016 for the new 100G QSFP28 format. This module, in conjunction with new 100GbE switch silicon from several vendors, will trigger high volume deployment of 100GbE in hyper-scale computing environments.

2016 will be a historic year in optics, as it represents the beginning of a transition from 10G technology, which served customers for the past decade, to faster 25G speeds. During 10G’s reign, we’ve witnessed component vendors deliver tens of millions of modules and the price for them dropping 20% annually. 10G technology was later bootstrapped to serve the demand for 40GbE speeds but this was an evolutionary, not revolutionary step.

Now the game is changing, and the faster 25G speeds require that the industry retool fabrication, test, and assembly processes. This process will initially narrow the field of suppliers down to a handful of select companies that have invested in these capabilities.

Despite the reduction in suppliers for 25G, the market’s needs will be met. Module supply in 2016 should be ample enough to catalyze the transition in hyperscale environments away from 40GbE technology to 25G. Demand will ignite in 2H16 as long as the components are multi-sourced and priced according to market expectations. Under these conditions, expect to see over $100M in annualized revenue for QSFP28 as 2016 ends. But progress doesn’t stop there because 2017 will herald the arrival of another new technology designed to squeeze even more from the format…

PAM-4

Companies such as InPhi and MACOM are already hard at work to provide a silicon roadmap for the QSFP28 format, which will double and eventually quadruple the capacity of a single module through pulse amplitude modulation (PAM-4).

This new silicon will translate 25G digital signals into analog waveforms that increase the capacity of a 25Gbaud channel through multi-level signaling. Adjacent to this new silicon, module manufacturers will need to deliver higher performance un-retimed QSFP28 modules with the bandwidth necessary to handle the PAM-4 signaling. This requirement for additional incremental performance significantly raises the bar for suppliers yet again and will weed out those who don’t have access to this core technology.

Finally, the PAM-4 silicon and higher performance modules cannot be priced much more than existing 100G QSFPs or the cost per bit benefit of the transition to higher speeds fails. All of this spells out an exciting engineering and economic challenge, and expect to see vendors provide more detail for this product cycle at OFC.

Metro 100G+ Coherent WDM

Moving away from the data center to longer WDM links, pricing for 100G continues to drop as volume increases and more efficient technologies enter the marketplace. This dynamic spurs further and deeper deployment of 100G in the network and creates a ripe environment for continuing innovation.

Consequently, companies will announce and demonstrate a bevy of technologies optimizing the cost, performance, and power for coherent technology in shorter reach applications. Expect these companies to roll out yet more 200G to 500G coherent technology announcements, lower cost ROADM technology, and perhaps even new solutions targeted at that last bastion of 10G WDM – the 80km or less domain.

Coherent 100G Vertical Integration

The ongoing trend of equipment vendors designing and building coherent 100G optics in house shows no sign of stopping. This year, Ciena announced the acquisition of assets from TeraXion which will complement the company’s longstanding expertise in designing coherent hardware. Likewise, Cisco announced new DSP technology as part of its NCS1000 DCI system in November.

It would be shocking if we did not see a barrage of additional announcements at OFC amplifying this theme while the other optical vendors that account for most of the shipments–Huawei, Nokia (previously Alcatel-Lucent), Infinera–double down on their internal coherent technology investments.

CFP2-ACO Modules Reach Volume Production

Many believed that the adoption of metro 100G would be the opportunity for optical module vendors to reclaim lost market share from vertically integrated equipment companies such as Ciena, Nokia, Huawei, Infinera, and Cisco. This is indeed transpiring – though not in the way most expected – as vendors bypass the traditional digital format used to interface to optical modules. They are embracing CFP2-ACO, which like PAM-4, moves the interface to the module to the analog domain.

The CFP2-ACO module, which contains all of the transmit and receive coherent optics, emerged as the technology of choice for most vertically integrated vendors (as well as others like Coriant) as a way to address both data center interconnect applications and metro-optical RFP’s such as Verizon’s. The OIF’s recent announcement of a finalized CFP2-ACO implementation agreement decreases risk by standardizing the electrical, management, thermal and mechanical specifications for this format.

Buzz at OFC will center on how vendors plan to bring CFP2-ACO to volume production – reference Oclaro’s recent announcement on reaching 1000’s of units a quarter this year – and extend its capabilities. Glimpses of second generation technology from vendors such as Lumentum may be present. In turn, the success of this CFP2-ACO ecosystem should spawn announcements from adjacent component vendors, particularly DSPs, as vendors such as Acacia, Clariphy, and NTT Electronics are driven by their customers to rally behind this format.