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How the Industry’s Highest-performing 800G Optical Engine, ICE6, Is Bringing Value to All Optical Networking Market Segments

portrait of Geoff Bennett

February 15, 2022
By Geoff Bennett
Director, Solutions & Technology

Infinera’s ICE6 optical engine has established itself as the performance leader in the fifth-generation, 800G transponder market.  Without a doubt, ICE6’s performance is the primary driver behind the fastest ramp of a new transponder generation in Infinera’s history, with more than 30 ICE6 customers to date, including Arelion (Telia Carrier), Telstra, Telecom Italia Sparkle, Telxius (Telefoníca), and Fastweb.  ICE6’s performance opens up the widest 800G addressable market, with Infinera’s solution enabling our customers to put more revenue-generating services over a given fiber pair at the lowest cost per bit. And, despite continued supply chain pressures across the industry, Infinera’s production team has been able to rapidly scale production to meet the substantial market demand for this technology.

In many of these operators, we’ve seen deployments of ICE6 over third-party line systems, a clear validation of increasing industry adoption of open optical networking. These network operators are leveraging ICE6’s high level of programmability and the open data models and APIs of Infinera’s GX G42 compact modular platform to smoothly and rapidly deploy best-of-breed 800G transponders across their existing line systems.

Let’s take a quick look at the diversity of ICE6 deployments and the benefits network operators have realized as a result.

Communication Service Providers

These are companies with a wide variety of business needs – in most cases providing access to enterprise, cloud, mobile, and residential users, and with a variety of fixed and mobile network assets.  The one thing they all have in common is an insatiable demand for more capacity. For these operators, in many cases, ICE6 was able to double their network capacity when compared with other solutions, while also driving down the cost of delivering services.

UFINET is a carrier-neutral wholesale infrastructure operator in Colombia with >75,000 km in fiber assets connecting 17 countries across Latin America.  The deployment of an 800G-capable ICE6 solution will help them achieve their business goal of rapidly scaling their network to deliver next-generation, high-bandwidth internet, voice, and video services in the regions across Latin America that need them the most – but at the lowest cost per bit, thanks to ICE6’s performance.  This performance is enabling UFINET to double the capacity of their existing backbone network – an outstanding return on investment.

With 2.7 million wireline customers and 2.3 million mobile customers, Fastweb is a major Italian telecommunications operator. The company offers a wide range of voice and data services, fixed communication, and mobile to households and businesses.   All this traffic is connected over a 56,000-km national backbone network with over 4 million km of fiber that reaches 22 million households. Fastweb will use ICE6 to double this backbone capacity and to enable the launch of new 400 GbE services across their existing infrastructure.

Wholesale Long-haul Operators

Companies like Sparkle and Arelion (recently rebranded from Telia Carrier) operate long-distance terrestrial networks and provide services to other network operators and large enterprise companies. These operators often work with a limited number of fibers and expensive infrastructure. As such, getting the most out of every fiber is key. For these operators, ICE6 is able to increase the number of services each fiber could carry by as much as 50% over their existing solutions, enabling them to get more value out of their currently deployed infrastructures.

In Italy, Sparkle can maximize the return on investment from its nationwide fiber assets by operating very high wavelength data rates, even over legacy fiber types.  This includes a field trial result of 700 Gb/s wavelengths over 858 km, as well as 500 Gb/s wavelengths across a 2,136-km link.  This represents a data rate per wavelength that is over three times higher and 50% more potential capacity on the 858-km link, and a data rate five times higher and almost double the potential capacity on the 2,136-km link compared to their current technology.  Sparkle operates a full range of services over this network, including multi-cloud, colocation, mobile infrastructure, and voice services, and its customers include enterprises, OTTs, carriers, media, and content players.

Arelion has been the number-one internet backbone provider for the past five years, and their customers account for over 65% of global internet routes.  High-capacity connectivity is essential, and the decision to deploy Infinera’s ICE6 came after a field validation trial on a 2,396-km link between Denver and Chicago. The trial was performed using Infinera’s innovative ICE6 technology over an existing third-party line system and demonstrated superior performance and dramatically improved network capacity.

Internet Content Providers

The ICP market covers a lot of ground – literally.  ICPs need to interconnect data centers across cities, oceans, and everything in between.  We see two types of ICP traffic driving the demand to move to 800G.  First is the classic on-ramp connectivity for cloud-based services talking to their end users, known as north-south traffic, and second is machine-to-machine traffic between data centers, known as east-west traffic.  Both these favor the use of fewer, higher-speed wavelengths to support a given service demand, and to support the highest possible client data rate, which is current 400 GbE.  ICE6’s superior flexibility to share capacity across the two wavelengths on the same module means that 400 GbE is far more easily supported with a minimum of stranded capacity on the fiber. The result is that ICE6 enables these operators to meet their bandwidth needs with less equipment, driving down CapEx, OpEx, power, and space requirements.

For years ICP data center interconnection has included ultra-long-distance direct connections between data centers over submarine cable systems.  When these were initially deployed, submarine services were digitally terminated in the cable landing station (CLS) using OTN switches.  But as fiber capacity has increased into the tens of terabits per second range, and service terminations have tended to focus on 100 GbE and 400 GbE, ICPs have led the move toward optically expressing through the CLS and onward to the nearest data center.  Sometimes these can be close to the CLS, as is the case with the EllaLink cable system connecting Lisbon, Portugal and Fortaleza, Brazil.  But in other cases, the CLS may not be a suitable location for a major data center, so the terrestrial portion of the cable may stretch to several tens of kilometers.  On ICP-owned cables like MAREA, ICE6 has shown a dramatic increase in fiber pair capacity – from 24 Tb/s using Infinera’s ICE4 technology to 28 Tb/s with ICE6.  This improvement is particularly impressive because we are rapidly approaching the Shannon limit for this cable system.

Research and Education

Research and education (R&E) is a crucial segment for high-performance networking, and GÉANT is a longstanding Infinera customer that has adopted multiple generations of our optical engines to extract the maximum performance and value from their pan-European R&E backbone – together we even set a a Guinness World Record that still stands today.  This is a network that interconnects 39 national research and education network (NRENs) to provide capacity for scientific excellence, research, education, and innovation.  A recent trial of ICE6 on a G.655 LEAF fiber route between Amsterdam and Frankfurt, a fiber distance of over 800 km, we were able to show 800 Gb/s transmission with deployable service margins.  This is a world-record performance for LEAF fiber, which is not an ideal fiber for coherent transmission, and it actually beat Infinera’s previous record of 667 km over the Verizon network from 2020.  With a significant percentage of existing long-distance fiber  based on LEAF, this is an extremely important demonstration of ICE6’s ability to deliver industry-leading performance on all fiber types.

Submarine Network Operators: All Cable Types

Submarine networks are the most demanding optical transmission environments.  But ICE6’s capabilities, including the ability to tune baud rates and modulation to optimize fiber pair capacity, have made it an instant success in this market.  The unregenerated distances in subsea are incredibly long. Modern trans-Atlantic cables like MAREA, which was designed and initially funded by Meta and Microsoft, and Dunant, initially funded by Google, stretch over 6,500 km. Trans-Pacific cables like those operated by TPG and Telstra are even longer, with some reaching over 10,000 km.  While there are almost 490 submarine cables around the world, when it comes to performance expectations, it’s important to understand that these cables fall into four broad categories.

Dispersion-managed cables.  These make up the majority of long-haul submarine cables around the world today.  They were designed before the development of coherent technology, and we can expect them to have around 40% of the fiber pair capacity of modern cables.  But ICE6 performs extremely well on these cables, as customers like Telstra have discovered.  A key advantage for ICE6 in this respect is its support for non-probabilistic constellation shaped (PCS) hybrid QAM modulations such as power-balanced, eight-dimensional, fixed constellations like 2.5QAM and 3QAM on these long dispersion-managed cables.  In fact, we typically outperform our nearest competition by around 25% on these legacy cable types, and in Telstra’s case, we delivered a 45% increase in cable capacity.  This performance advantage is vital in extending the economic life of an expensive network asset such as a submarine cable – especially as new cables are not only expensive to deploy but also take five to seven years between first concept and first services over the new cable.

Uncompensated large-area-fiber cables.  These cable systems, such as MAREA, Seaborn’s Seabras-1 and AMX-1, EllaLink, BRUSA, PEACE, and AAE-1, were specifically designed for coherent transmission, with positive-dispersion, large-area fibers.  ICE6’s trial on MAREA showed the value of these cable architectures with a capacity, including operating margins, of over 28 Tb/s per fiber pair, when the original design capacity of the cable was 20 Tb/s per fiber pair.  For these cable types, Infinera’s long-codeword PCS with the ability to use a unique super-Gaussian distribution, which creates a “squarer” PCS constellation that can offer better performance in a nonlinear fiber region, is a key advantage.  But the feature that really sets ICE6 apart is its ability to combine these capabilities with ultra-high but variable baud rates that allow us to deal with end-of-band issues, line monitoring wavelengths, and other fiber artifacts.

Space-division multiplexing (SDM) cablesSDM is the latest generation of submarine cable architecture with a design that focuses on capacity per cable, as opposed to capacity per fiber pair.  The expectation with SDM cables such as Dunant was that each fiber pair would have less capacity than a cable like MAREA, which is almost exactly the same length, but Dunant is able to support 50% more fiber pairs than MAREA (12 vs. eight).  We now know that ICE6’s stellar performance on SDM cables actually closes that performance gap and will unlock significant “unexpected” additional capacity in emerging SDM cables.

Unrepeatered and festoon cables.  These are relatively short-distance cables – typically less than 400 km.  They are used to interconnect islands to islands, islands to the mainland, and various types of offshore platforms to the mainland.  Every one of these cables is different, but we have seen astonishing performance capabilities from ICE6 in all type of unrepeatered and festoon architectures.  This is a fantastic market for ICE6, with 13 new unrepeatered systems planned over the next two years, and over 10,000 km of these cable types added around the world in the past five years.


Infinera’s ICE6 has proven itself to be the highest-performing 800G-class transponder on the market today.  With over 30 customers already, ICE6 deployments are ramping faster than any previous transponder generation in Infinera’s history, and thanks to ICE6’s stellar performance over all fiber types, customers from all segments of the market are using this technology to respond to ever-growing demands for transmission capacity.