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Coherent gets a boost with probabilistic shaping

Nokia has detailed its next-generation PSE-3 digital signal processor (DSP) family for coherent optical transmission.

The PSE-3s is the industry’s first announced coherent DSP that supports probabilistic constellation shaping, claims Nokia.

Probabilistic shaping is the latest in a series of techniques adopted to improve coherent optical transmission performance. These techniques include higher-order modulation, soft-decision forward error correction (SD-FEC), multi-dimensional coding, Nyquist filtering and higher baud rates.

Kyle Hollasch

“There is an element here that the last big gains have now been had,” says Kyle Hollasch, director of product marketing for optical networks at Nokia.

Probabilistic shaping is a signal-processing technique that squeezes the last bit of capacity out of a fibre’s spectrum, approaching what is known as the non-linear Shannon Limit.

“We are not saying we absolutely hit the Shannon Limit but we are extremely close: tenths of a decibel whereas most modern systems are a couple of decibels away from the theoretical maximum,” says Hollasch.


Satisfying requirements

Optical transport equipment vendors are continually challenged to meet the requirements of the telcos and the webscale players.

One issue is meeting the continual growth in IP traffic: telcos are experiencing 25 percent yearly traffic growth whereas for the webscale players it is 60 percent. Vendors must also ensure that their equipment keeps reducing the cost of transport when measured as the cost-per-bit.

Operators also want to automate their networks. Technologies such as flexible-grid, reconfigurable optical add/drop multiplexers (ROADMs), higher-order modulation and higher baud rates all add flexibility to the optical layer but at the expense of complexity. 


There is an element here that the last big gains have now been had 


“It is easy to say software-defined networking will hide all that complexity,” says Hollasch. “But hardware has an important role: to keep delivering capacity gains but also make the network simpler.”

Satisfying these demands is what Nokia set out to achieve when designing the PSE-3s.


Capacity and cost

Like the current PSE-2 coherent DSPs that Nokia launched in 2016, two chips make up the PSE-3 family: the super coherent PSE-3s and the low-power compact PSE-3c.

The PSE-3s is a 1.2-terabit chip that can drive two sets of optics, each capable of transmitting 100 to 600 gigabit wavelengths. This compares to the 500-gigabit PSE-2s that can drive two wavelengths, each up to 250Gbps.

The low-power PSE-3c also can transmit more traffic, 100 and 200-gigabit wavelengths, twice the capacity of the 100-gigabit PSE-2c.

Nokia has used a software model of two operators’ networks, one an North America and another in Germany, to assess the PSE-3s. 

The PSE-3s’ probabilistic shaping delivers 70% more capacity while using a third fewer line cards when compared with existing commercial systems based on 100Gbps for long haul and 200Gbps for the metro. When the PSE-3s is compared with existing Nokia PSE-2s-based platforms on the same networks, a 25 percent capacity gain is achieved using a quarter fewer line cards.

Hollasch says that the capacity gain is 1.7x and not greater because 100-gigabit coherent technology used for long haul is already spectrally efficient. “But it is less so for shorter distances and you do get more capacity gains in the metro,” says Hollasch.


Probabilistic shaping

The 16nm CMOS PSE-3s supports a symbol rate of up to 67Gbaud. This compares to the 28nm CMOS PSE-2s that uses two symbol rates: 33Gbaud and 45Gbaud.

The PSE-3s’ higher baud rate results in a dense wavelength-division multiplexing (DWDM) channel width of 75GHz. Traditional fixed-grid channels are 50GHz wide. With 75GHz-wide channels, 64 lightpaths can fit within the C-band.

The PSE-3s uses one modulation format only: probabilistic shaping 64-ary quadrature amplitude modulation (PS-64QAM). This compares with the PSE-2s that supports six modulations ranging from binary phase-shift keying (BPSK) for the longest spans to 64-QAM for a 400-gigabit wavelength.

Using probabilistic shaping, one modulation format supports data rates from 200 to 600Gbps. For 100Gbps, the PSE-3s uses a lower baud rate in order to fit existing 50GHz-wide channels.

In current optical networks, all the constellation points of the various modulation formats are used with equal probability. BPSK has two constellation points while 64-QAM has 64. Probabilistic shaping does not give equal weighting to all the constellation points. Instead, it favours those with lower energy, represented by those points closer to the origin in a constellation graph. The only time all the constellation points are used is at the maximum data rate - 600Gbps for the PSE-3s.

Using the inner, lower energy constellation points more frequently than the outer points reduces the overall average energy and this improves the signal-to-noise ratio. That is because the symbol error rate at the receiver is dominated by the distance between neighbouring points on the constellation. Reducing the average energy still keeps the distance between the points the same, but since a constant signal power level is used for DWDM transmission, applying gain increases the distance between the constellation points.

“We separate these points further in space - the Euclidean distance between them,” says Hollasch. “That is where the shaping gain comes from.”


Changing the probabilistic shaping in response to feedback from the chip, from the network, we think that is a powerful innovation


Using probabilistic shaping delivers a maximum 1.53dB of improvement in a linear transmission channel. In practice, Nokia says it achieves 1dB.  “One dB does not sound a lot but I call it the ultimate dB, the last dB in addition to all the other techniques,” he says.  

By using few and fewer of the constellation points, or favouring those points closer to the origin, reduces the data that can be transported. This is how the data rate is reduced from the maximum 600Gbps to 200Gbps.

To implement probabilistic shaping, Nokia has developed an IP block called for the chip called the distribution matcher. The matcher maps the input data stream as rates as high as 1.2 terabits-per-second onto the constellation points in a non-uniform way.   

Theoretically, probabilistic shaping allows any chosen data rate to be used. But what dictates the actual data rate gradations is the granularity of the client signals. The Optical Internetworking Forum’s Flex Ethernet (FlexE) standard defines 25-gigabit increments and that will be the size of the line-side data rate increments.  

Embracing a single modulation format and a 75GHz channel results in network operation benefits, says Hollasch: “It stops you having to worry and manage a complicated spectrum across a broad network.” And it also offers the prospect of network optimisation. “Changing the probabilistic shaping in response to feedback from the chip, from the network, we think that is a powerful innovation,” says Hollasch.


The reach performance of the PSE-3s using 62Gbaud and PS-64QAM. The reach performance of the PSE-2s is shown (where relevant) for comparison purposes.

Product plans

The first Nokia product to use the PSE-3 chips is the 1830 Photonic Service Interconnect-Modular, a 1 rack-unit compact modular platform favoured by the webscale players.

Nokia has designed two module-types or ‘sleds’ for the 1830 PSI-M pizza box. The first is a 400-gigabit sled that uses two sets of optics and two PSE-3c chips along with four 100-gigabit client-side interfaces. Four such 400-gigabit sleds fit within the platform to deliver a total of 1.6 terabits of line-side capacity.

In contrast, two double-width sleds fit within the platform using the PSE-3s. Each sled has one PSE-3 chip and two sets of optics, each capable of up to a 600-gigabit wavelength, and a dozen 100-gigabit interfaces. Here the line-side capacity is 2.4 terabits.

Nokia says the 400-gigabit sleds will be available in the first half of this year whereas the 1.2 terabit sleds will start shipping at the year-end or early 2019. The first samples of the PSE-3s are expected in the second half of 2018. Nokia will then migrate the PSE-3s to the rest of its optical transport platform portfolio.   

So has coherent largely run its course?

“In terms of a major innovation in signal processing, probabilistic shaping is completing the coherent picture,” says Hollasch. There will be future coherent DSP chips based on more advanced process nodes than 16nm with symbol rates approaching 100GBaud. Higher data rates per wavelength will result but at the expense of a wider channel width. But once probabilistic shaping is deployed, further spectral efficiencies will be limited.

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