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After two years of virtual meetings, people are eagerly anticipating in-person events. Most of the companies you would expect to see at OFC are returning this March, and we at Cignal AI are excited to be on the floor, presenting and meeting with people face to face once again.

Here is a sneak peek of the hot topics of discussion at OFC 2022:

  • The Coming of Age for 90 Gigabaud High-Performance Optics (Gen90P)
  • Compact Modular Embraces Pluggables
  • IP-over-DWDM: The Pluggables are Here; Bring on the Open Line Systems
  • Datacenter Optics Increase in Speed While PAM4 Continues to Hold Off Coherent
  • Co-Packaged Optics: More Talk, but Where is the Support System?
  • 400ZR Fragmentation Means More Options at the Expense of Interoperability
  • Finally – What Questions Will We Explore at OFC?
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The Coming of Age for 90 Gigabaud High-Performance Optics (Gen90P)

Ciena and Infinera announced their Gen90P (5th generation) optics at OFC 2019. During the pandemic and two years of virtual conferences, 800G matured without so much as a live demonstration at OFC.

Never has an optical vendor had such a staggering generational lead in optics as Ciena, which shipped nearly 90% of the industry’s Gen90P 800G interfaces (see 400ZR vs 800G – Classifying Coherent Technology) by the end of 2021. Mainstream technology typically doesn’t get much attention at OFC. Still, considering the lack of conference exposure over the past two years, you can expect Gen90P vendor demonstrations, press releases, and competing performance claims to be prominent. Infinera will spotlight that ICE6 is now shipping in volume. Nokia will point out that it too has begun shipping a Gen90P interface, albeit in low quantities so far, and one that tops out at 600G.

Extensive discussion surrounding the future of high-performance coherent interfaces is likely to take a back seat to the hotter topic of pluggable optics. Acacia already announced its Gen120P interface in a low-key September 2021 blog post (Acacia Announces 1.2Tbps DSP and Coherent Module), but it is not yet ready to be demonstrated. Huawei won’t be present at OFC due to pandemic travel restrictions. The Chinese giant has been quiet about its H7 800G DSP chipset and would likely have not emphasized its future coherent generations reliant upon cutting-edge silicon processes due to ongoing US trade restrictions. The OFC wildcard is Ciena; Will the company announce a new technology roadmap beyond Wavelogic 5?

Compact Modular Embraces Pluggables

While the excitement surrounding Gen60C optics centers on the 400ZR/ZR+ pluggable coherent modules used in IP-over-DWDM, the workhorse for deployment beyond metro DCI will be the CFP2-DCO. With its larger thermal envelope that enables more features and better performance, it will be widely adopted within optical transport platforms and Service Provider (as opposed to Cloud operator) networks.

The most common transport hardware demonstration on the OFC show floor will likely be compact modular transponders featuring pluggable 400G CFP2 line interfaces. A host of vendors have announced such products–Nokia, Cisco, Ciena, Ribbon, ADVA, Infinera, Fujitsu, and PacketLight – many of which pursue AT&T’s 400G OpenROADM business. In addition, Nokia and Ciena have also integrated 400G CFP2-DCO’s into their P-OTN switching platforms. At the same time, some vendors – Ciena and Smartoptics in particular – also support 400ZR/ZR+ QSFP-DD line interfaces in their compact modular platforms.

More interesting than the platforms that host them will be the expanding range of CFP2 module suppliers, including Acacia, Nokia, Ciena, Lumentum, Fujitsu Optical Components, II-VI, and Infinera, among others. We’ll be looking to see whether network equipment manufacturers are successfully selling these internally developed modules directly to network operators or if the modules will remain primarily for internal use. We will also closely follow the evolution of Compact coherent optics in service provider applications. Will the need for a “middle-performance” optic that is currently filled by the CFP2-DCO be rendered obsolete by high-performance pluggables on one side (such as Acacia’s CIM-8) and a coming generation of 800G QSFP-DD optics (the OIF 800G Coherent Implementation Agreement) on the other?

IP-over-DWDM: The Pluggables are Here; Bring on the Open Line Systems

Open line systems are nothing new, but 400ZR/ZR+ pluggables greatly expand the market. Router-based DCOs, while necessary for IP-over-DWDM, aren’t sufficient. Wavelengths still need photonic layer transport, and it’s the network equipment manufacturers, not the merchant module vendors, who are in the best position to provide them. As a result, OFC 2022 is likely to see more attention paid to line systems than we’ve seen since the days when CDC-F ROADMs were hitting the market.

Embracing open line systems is a double-edged sword for network equipment manufacturers; they can win transponder revenue over other vendors’ line systems or lose it as third-party wavelengths are lit up over their own installed infrastructure. At this point, the market is giving them no choice. OFC 2022 will herald the incumbent NEMs’ full embrace of multi-vendor networks; no one calls them “alien wavelengths” anymore.

OFC line system demonstrations will focus on managing wavelengths from any source – internal or external, router or transponder. We’ll also see new, compact modular line systems purpose-built for IP-over-DWDM and edge applications. Most optical revenue (and profit margin) comes from coherent interfaces, which are no longer tied to line system incumbency. Nevertheless, NEMs believe that winning the optical line system gives them a leg up on subsequent coherent business. It is ironic that at OFC’22, the preferred way that vendors will differentiate their line system will be to demonstrate its ability to manage other vendors’ coherent interfaces.

Datacenter Optics Increase in Speed While PAM4 Continues to Hold Off Coherent

While we expect to see many switches and routers on the show floor that support 400GbE, some component vendors will already demonstrate 800GbE client optics for datacenters. Despite concerns that ramping too quickly to 800GbE will strand some 400GbE investment, vendors will debut 800GbE PAM4-based datacenter optics this year, and present roadmaps to 1.6Tbps. 100Gbps electrical lanes are cutting edge this year, but 200Gbps is in development and will appear in slides from PAM4 advocates, promising a path to 3.2Tbps in a client optics form factor without the need for expensive coherent optics.

As direct detect PAM4 solutions continue to push out the day when coherent optics make economic sense inside the datacenter, the debate will rage over when coherent will finally conquer that last segment of the network. Unfortunately, the transition is difficult to forecast. Initially, 800Gbps was seen as a transition point – until PAM4 800GbE solutions were developed that were significantly less expensive than DSP-based solutions. Our current estimate is that coherent technology enters the intra-datacenter market in the next generation (1.6T or 3.2T), but we expect much debate on this topic.

Co-Packaged Optics: More Talk, but Where is the Support System?

Last year’s virtual OFC program included several talks on and demonstrations of Co-Packaged optics, as documented in Cignal AI’s OFC21 Review. The discussion has continued over the past twelve months, but there still haven’t been any commercial announcements. In a show of progress, the OIF released its “Co-Packaging Framework Implementation Agreement” to bring some agreement to the many potential implementations being discussed.

We expect to see more real hardware options from both startups and established switch chip vendors this year, but nothing commercially viable. The complete support system discussed last year has yet to materialize. We still believe that proprietary implementations from companies like Broadcom and Intel will reach the market before the OIF agreement generates interoperability at the chip level. Webscale network operators have strongly argued that CPO is the only solution for their growing power and space limitations – therefore some solution must be developed eventually. What remains to be seen is whether the solution leaves an opening for smaller players or is restricted to just the Big Silicon Behemoths. It is incumbent on the CPO community to show real progress to keep the naysayers at bay.

400ZR Fragmentation Means More Options at the Expense of Interoperability

The OIF’s 400ZR specification for pluggable optics has been an unqualified success. 400ZR module suppliers are building at capacity and ramping quickly to meet a huge demand that came initially from webscale operators but expanded quickly to other operators. At OFC this year, we expect to see no fewer than five or six 400ZR offerings from optical component vendors.

However, all 400ZR DSPs include additional operating modes to expand the addressable market beyond 80km, point-to-point networks. Some of these operating modes fit into industry consortia agreements (OpenZR+, OpenROADM), but many are proprietary. In addition, some of these modes require additional heat dissipation and are being offered in CFP2 formats, while the majority remain in the QSFP-DD (or OSFP) format preferred by switch/router users. This OFC, we expect to see the first demonstrations of high output power modules (0dBm, compared to -10dBm in 400ZR) for use in more complex, multi-ROADM or longer distance networks.

The 400ZR implementation agreement has spawned a fragmented multiverse of pluggable 400Gbps coherent options, many of which are not interoperable. The market will determine which is more critical; better performance or interoperability in the long term. We expect to hear many different vendors at OFC describing why their distinct implementation is superior. Marvell, Cisco (Acacia), and Neophotonics shipped products in 2021 and will almost certainly have announcements at the show. We may also learn of commercial shipments from Ciena, Nokia, and others.

Questions to be Explored at OFC

How and when will the supply chain situation resolve? Companies unable to meet demand are booking record backlogs, and it is impossible to know how much of this ordering is giving suppliers longer visibility rather than simple double ordering. Historically, these situations converge quickly once supply issues resolve. Customers won’t order out nine months ahead once there is a sufficient inventory surplus on the shelf.

When does 400GbE go mainstream? 400GbE is now the speed of choice for cloud operators building their networks, with an estimated near 2.5 million units shipped in 2021. However, uptake among traditional OEMs has been slow. While most OEMs report shipments of equipment that can support 400GbE, none are yet reporting significant 400GbE optics sales. There will be a crossover from 100GbE shipments among the OEMs in the future, but the question is, when?

What does the ramp for 400ZR look like 2-3 years out? Hyperscale operators, as well as some of the more technically aggressive telcos, are deploying now. But to what degree will 400ZR+ be adopted in longer reaches, and how much traditional optical transport equipment will be displaced? Cignal AI’s presentation 400ZR IPoDWDM – Market Impact and Forecast made some initial estimates, but these will need constant tuning as the picture becomes clearer.

Does anyone care about interoperability? 400ZR took a major step towards disaggregation by creating multiple suppliers of pluggable coherent optics – but operators are eschewing the standardized modes and maximizing performance. Despite massive marketing and attention, initiatives like OpenROADM have not resulted in material deployments.

Odds and ends. Will companies like Nokia, Ciena, and Infinera still pursue vertical integration, and will they take this opportunity to announce their next moves in coherent optics? Is 100ZR ever going to happen?

We’ll find out soon enough. See you in San Diego!

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