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Coherent optics players target the network edge for growth

Part 1: Coherent developments

The market for optical links for reaches between 10km and 120km is emerging as a fierce battleground between proponents of coherent and direct-detection technologies. 

Interest in higher data rates such as 400 gigabits is pushing coherent-based optical transmission from its traditional long-distance berth to shorter-reach applications. “That tends to be where the growth for coherent has come from as it has migrated from long-haul to metro,” says Tom Williams, senior director of marketing at Acacia Communications, a coherent technology supplier. 


Source: Acacia Communications, Gazettabyte

Williams points to the Optical Internetworking Forum’s (OIF) ongoing work to develop a 400-gigabit link for data centre interconnect. Dubbed 400ZR, the project is specifying an interoperable coherent interface that will support dense wavelength-division multiplexing (DWDM) links for distances of at least 80km.

Meanwhile, the IEEE standards group defining 400 Gigabit Ethernet has issued a Call-For-Interest to determine whether to form a Study Group to look at 400-Gigabit applications beyond the currently defined 10km 400GBASE-LR8 interface.      

“Coherent moving to higher-volume, shorter-reach solutions shows it is not just a Cadillac product,” says Williams. Higher-volume markets will also be needed to fund coherent chip designs using advanced CMOS process nodes. “Seven nanometer [CMOS] becomes a very expensive prospect,” says Williams. “The traditional business case is not going to be there without finding higher volumes.”      


Coherent moving to higher-volume, shorter-reach solutions shows it is not just a Cadillac product


Pico DSP 

Acacia detailed its next-generation high-end coherent digital signal processor (DSP) at the OFC show held in Los Angeles in March.

Tom WilliamsDubbed Pico, the DSP will support transmission speeds of up to 1.2 terabits-per-second using two carriers, each carrying 600 gigabits of data implemented using 64-ary quadrature amplitude modulation (64QAM) and a 64 gigabaud symbol rate. The 16nm CMOS dual-core DSP also features an internal crossbar switch to support a range of 100-gigabit and 400-gigabit client interfaces.

ADVA Optical Networking is using the Pico for its Teraflex data centre interconnect product. The Teraflex design supports 3.6 terabits of line-side capacity in a single rack unit (1RU). Each 1RU houses three “sleds”, each supporting two wavelengths operating at up to 600 gigabits-per-second (Gbps).

But ADVA Optical Networking also detailed at OFC its work with leading direct-detection technology proponents, Inphi and Ranovus. For the data centre interconnect market, there is interest in coherent and direct-detection technologies, says ADVA.

Detailing the Pico coherent DSP before it is launched as a product is a new development for Acacia. “We knew there would be speculation about ADVA’s Teraflex technology and we preferred to be up front about it,” says Williams.    

The 16nm Pico chip was also linked to an Acacia post-deadline paper at OFC detailing the company’s progress in packaging its silicon photonics chips using ball grid array (BGA) technology. Williams stresses that process issues remain before its photonic integrated circuit (PIC) products will use BGA packaging, an approach that will simplify and reduce manufacturing costs.

“You are no longer running the board with all the electronics through a surface mount line and then have technicians manually solder on the optics,” says Williams. Moreover, BGA packaging will lead to greater signal integrity, an important consideration as the data rates between the coherent DSP and the PIC increase.


It is an endorsement of our model but I do not think it is the same as ours. You still have to have someone providing the DSP and someone else doing the optics     


Coherent competition

Ciena's recent announcement that it is sharing its WaveLogic Ai coherent DSP technology with optical module vendors Lumentum, Oclaro and NeoPhotonics is seen as a response to Acacia’s success as a merchant supplier of coherent modules and coherent DSP technologies.

Williams says Acacia’s strategy remains the same when asked about the impact of the partnership between Ciena and the optical module makers: to continue being first to market with differentiated products.

One factor that has helped Acacia compete with merchant suppliers of coherent DSPs - NEL and ClariPhy, now acquired by Inphi - is that it also designs the silicon photonics-based optics used in its modules. This allows a trade-off between the DSP and the optics to benefit the overall system design.

A challenge facing the three optical module makers working with Ciena is that each one will have to go off and optimise their design, says Williams. “It is an endorsement of our model but I do not think it is the same as ours,” he says. “You still have to have someone providing the DSP and someone else doing the optics.”     


Coherent roadmap

Acacia has managed to launch a new coherent DSP product every year since 2011 (see diagram, above). In 2015 it launched its Denali DSP, the first to operate at line rates greater than 100Gbps.

Last year it announced the Meru, a low-power DSP for its CFP2-DCO module. The CFP2-DCO operates at 100Gbps using polarisation multiplexing, quadrature phase-shift keying, (PM-QPSK) and two 200Gbps modes: one using 16-ary quadrature amplitude modulation (PM-16QAM) and a longer reach variant, implemented using a higher baud rate and 8-ary quadrature amplitude modulation (PM-8QAM). The CFP2-DCO is already starting to be designed into platforms.

Since 2014, Acacia has launched a low-power DSP design every even year and a high-end DSP every odd year, with the Pico being the latest example.  

Acacia has not said when the Pico coherent DSP will be generally available but ADVA Optical Networking has said it expects to launch the Teraflex in early 2018.  

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