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Silicon Photonics

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OPNFV's releases reflect the evolving needs of the telcos  

The Open Platform for NFV (OPNFV) is increasingly focused on supporting cloud-native technologies and the network edge.

Heather KirkseyThe open source group, part of the Linux Foundation, specialises in the system integration of network functions virtualisation (NFV) technology.

The OPNFV issued Fraser, its latest platform release, earlier this year while its next release, Gambia, is expected soon.  

Moreover, the telcos continual need for new features and capabilities means the OPNFV’s work is not slowing down.

“I don’t see us entering maintenance-mode anytime soon,” says Heather Kirksey, vice president, community and ecosystem development, The Linux Foundation and executive director, OPNFV. 

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Switch chips not optics set the pace in the data centre  

Broadcom is doubling the capacity of its switch silicon every 18-24 months, a considerable achievement given that Moore’s law has slowed down. 

Last December, Broadcom announced it was sampling its Tomahawk 3 - the industry’s first 12.8-terabit switch chip - just 14 months after it announced its 6.4-terabit Tomahawk 2.

Rochan SankarSuch product cycle times are proving beyond the optical module makers; if producing next-generation switch silicon is taking up to two years, optics is taking three, says Broadcom. 

“Right now, the problem with optics is that they are the laggards,” says Rochan Sankar, senior director of product marketing at switch IC maker, Broadcom. “The switching side is waiting for the optics to be deployable.”

The consequence, says Broadcom, is that in the three years spanning a particular optical module generation, customers have deployed two generations of switches. For example, the 3.2-terabit Tomahawk based switches and the higher-capacity Tomahawk 2 ones both use QSFP28 and SFP28 modules. 

In future, a closer alignment in the development cycles of the chip and the optics will be required, argues Broadcom.

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Is ADVA Optical Networking looking to buy ECI Telecom?

Is ADVA Optical Networking preparing a bid for private company ECI Telecom? The latest consolidation rumour involving the two mid-tier metro players comes after Infinera’s announcement that it is acquiring Coriant, a deal that is expected to close this quarter. 

According to a source in the financial sector, ADVA wanted to acquire Coriant but failed to raise the required funds. Infinera’s successful bid for Coriant has led ADVA to consider alternatives as it looks to secure its future in a consolidating marketplace, with ECI Telecom being viewed as an attractive target. 

ECI Telecom is reportedly considering an initial public offering (IPO) on the London Stock Exchange to raise $170 million. A source close to ADVA confirmed that ‘ECI is looking for a home’ but declined to comment on whether ADVA is involved. Another source close to ADVA suggested that there may be some truth in such a bid.

ADVA declined to comment. 

An ECI spokesperson said the company has issued no statement regarding an IPO and expressed surprise when asked if ECI was looking to merge. The spokesperson declined to comment when asked about ADVA acquiring ECI. 

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T-API taps into the transport layer 

The Optical Internetworking Forum (OIF) in collaboration with the Open Networking Foundation (ONF) and the Metro Ethernet Forum (MEF) have tested the second-generation transport application programming interface (T-API 2.0).

SK Telecom's Park Jin-hyo

T-API 2.0 is a standardised interface, released in late 2017 by the ONF, that enables the dynamic allocation of transport resources using software-defined networking (SDN) technology.

The interface has been created so that when a service provider, or one of its customers, requests a service, the required resources including the underlying transport are configured promptly.       

The OIF-led interoperability demonstration tested T-API 2.0 in dynamic use cases involving equipment from several systems vendors. Four service providers - CenturyLink, Telefonica, China Telecom and SK Telecom - provided their networking labs, located in three continents, for the testing.

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ADVA adds quantum-resistant security to its optical systems  

ADVA has demonstrated two encryption techniques for optical data transmission to counter the threat posed by quantum computing.  

“Quantum computers are very powerful tools to solve specific classes of mathematical problems,” says Jörg-Peter Elbers, senior vice president, advanced technology at ADVA. “One of these classes of problems is solving equations behind certain cryptographic schemes.”  


The use of three key exchange schemes over one infrastructure: classical public-key encryption using the Diffie-Hellman scheme, the quantum-resistant Neiderreiter algorithm, and a quantum-key distribution (QKD) scheme. Source: ADVA

Public-key encryption makes use of discrete logarithms, an example of a one-way function. Such functions use mathematical operations that for a conventional computer are easy to calculate in one direction but are too challenging to invert. Solving such complex mathematical problems, however, is exactly what quantum computers excel at. 

A fully-fledged quantum computer does not yet exist but the rapid progress being made in the basic technologies suggests it is only a matter of time. Once such computers exist, public key based security will be undermined. 

The looming advent of quantum computers already threatens data that must remain secure for years to come. There are agencies that specialise in tapping fibre, says Elbers, while the cost of storage is such that storing huge amounts of data traffic in a data centre is affordable. “The threat scenario is certainly a real one,” says Elbers. 

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Infinera buying Coriant will bring welcome consolidation  

Infinera is to purchase privately-held Coriant for $430 million. The deal will effectively double Infinera’s revenues, add 100 new customers and expand the systems vendor’s product portfolio.

Infinera's CEO, Tom FallonBut industry analysts, while welcoming the consolidation among optical systems suppliers, highlight the challenges Infinera faces making the Coriant acquisition a success.   

“The low price reflects that this isn't the best asset on the market,” says Sterling Perrin, principal analyst, optical networking and transport at Heavy Reading. “They are buying $1 of revenue for 50 cents; the price reflects the challenges.”   

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Imec eyes silicon photonics to solve chip I/O bottleneck

In the second and final article, the issue of adding optical input-output (I/O) to ICs is discussed with a focus on the work of the Imec nanoelectronics R&D centre that is using silicon photonics for optical I/O.

Part 2: Optical I/O

Imec has demonstrated a compact low-power silicon-photonics transceiver operating at 40 gigabits per second (Gbps). The silicon photonics transceiver design also uses 14nm FinFET CMOS technology to implement the accompanying driver and receiver electronics. 

Joris Van Campenhout“We wanted to develop an optical I/O technology that can interface to advanced CMOS technology,” says Joris Van Campenhout, director of the optical I/O R&D programme at Imec. “We want to directly stick our photonics device to that mainstream CMOS technology being used for advanced computing applications.”

Traditionally, the Belgium nanoelectronics R&D centre has focussed on scaling logic and memory but in 2010 it started an optical I/O research programme. “It was driven by the fact that we saw that electrical I/O doesn’t scale that well,” says Van Campenhout. Electrical interfaces have power, space and reach issues that get worse with each hike in transmission speed.

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