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At the end of October, Cignal AI published the Active Insight report “The State of 5th Generation Optics” which examined emerging 800Gbps capable 90+ GBaud technology. This past week, the two vendors leading development on 5th generation optics – Ciena and Infinera -­  provided updates that further enhance the report information.

  • Ciena provided an update to its WaveLogic 5 development schedule during its 4th quarter earnings call on December 12th.
  • Cignal AI was invited to Infinera’s Sunnyvale headquarters after we requested an update on the ICE 6 development schedule.

Coherent generations and industry confusion

The telecommunications industry classifies coherent optics technology based on the highest speed possible for a coherent component. The Ciena WaveLogic Ai is referred to as a 400Gbps solution, the Acacia AC1200 is referred to as a 600Gbps solution, the Infinera ICE6 is referred to as an 800Gbps solution, etc. In reality these headline speeds are of less interest to the customer than performance at the speeds that the customer is deploying (e.g. 200Gbps, 400Gbps). For example, the majority of 400Gbps-capable Ciena WaveLogic Ai was deployed during Q3 at 200Gbps.

This confusion among some industry observers over top speeds versus deployment speeds was apparent in questions posed on Ciena’s fourth-quarter earnings call where questions were asked about “skipping” 600Gbps and “the end of the 400Gbps era”. 600Gbps optics, operating at speeds of 200Gbps, 400Gbps, etc. will continue to have a place in operator networks and 400Gbps transmission is one of the primary drivers for the latest innovations in coherent optics.

We believe it is more accurate and useful to refer to coherent optics by generation, defined by baud rate and application space.

  • 3rd gen coherent – The Ciena WaveLogic Ai, Acacia AC1200, Huawei H6, Nokia PSE-3, and NEL ExaSPEED TERA are all 3rd generation coherent solutions with baud rates around 60GBaud.
  • 4th gen coherent – The 4th generation includes emerging 400ZR and 400ZR+ solutions with baud rates similar to 3rd gen but with a focus on lower power and pluggable formats. Acacia, Inphi, and NEL are the technology leaders here.
  • 5th gen coherent – These are the latest “800Gbps” solutions from Ciena (WaveLogic 5) and Infinera (ICE6), with baud rates approaching 100GBaud. 5th gen, like 3rd gen optics, will be deployed primarily at speeds less than the maximum. Expect most of these solutions to operate at 400Gbps, not 800Gbps, because of the superior performance at 400Gbps relative to 3rd gen coherent.

Ciena WaveLogic 5e update

During Ciena’s Q4 earnings call, CEO Gary Smith reported that the company is making “great progress” and remains “very confident that we will be first to market with an 800 Gig solution, in fact, well ahead of any other commercial offering.”

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