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Market Research Findings: Coherent Optics at 400G, 800G, and Beyond

portrait of Tim Doiron

December 9, 2021
By Tim Doiron
Sr. Director, Solution Marketing

Benefits, Deployment Locations, and Buying Attitudes

When I joined Infinera in 2019, one of the things we discussed was increasing our participation in primary research projects to provide additional insights and data points regarding industry trends, challenges, and opportunities. Our goal was to share information among ourselves and the entire optical networking ecosystem. As we conclude 2021, I am happy to report that we have successfully sponsored multiple independently executed primary research projects focusing on areas such as software automation, disaggregation, and open optical networking. Some projects have been solely sponsored by Infinera, while others have been multi-vendor collaborations. In each instance, we have made the analyst reports available for easy access on our website and highlighted some of the most salient findings impacting our industry.

400G, 800G, and Beyond

Thus, when Sterling Perrin, Principal Analyst, Heavy Reading, approached us about supporting a multi-vendor sponsorship for what became “400G, 800G and Beyond,” we jumped at the opportunity to participate along with Cisco and Juniper. The research itself ended up focusing on the following areas: 400G pluggables, optical/router integration, 800G embedded, and what’s next for both pluggable and embedded coherent optics. The full report is available HERE. Sterling also published a blog focused on the 800G embedded findings.

Superior Technology Outweighs Incumbency

One of the key 800G embedded findings was that 74% of service provider respondents are willing to consider alternative 800G optical engine/transponder suppliers beyond their current optical networking incumbents. With the emergence of open optical networking, with its transponder and optical line system separation, the time is right for service providers to lean into this deployment model. The benefits for service providers will be more choice, faster innovation, and improved economics. And in a world with supply chain constraints throughout the ecosystem, embracing open optical networking may also deliver increased supplier diversity and reduced supply chain risk for service providers.

Chart: Likelihood to Deploy Embedded 800G Coherent Optics from Non-Incumbent DWDM Supplier

Figure 1: Likelihood to deploy embedded 800G from non-incumbent DWDM supplier


In the remainder of this blog, I will focus on three additional findings I believe to be incredibly relevant as we ponder the roles of both pluggable and embedded coherent optics in future network architectures.

Multi-generational Value with XR Optics

Included in the survey was a question inquiring about the perceived value of XR optics. XR optics represents third-generation digital subcarrier technology that supports point-to-point applications like 400G ZR+ while also supporting an architectural shift toward point-to-multipoint, which can reduce the number of transceivers by almost 50%, eliminate intermediate electrical aggregation, and reduce total cost of ownership more than 70%. Only 7% of respondents indicated that they were unaware of XR optics, which means that the efforts of the Open XR Forum, innovation awards, white papers, and event presentations/panels are reaching the service provider audience. In addition, the top three listed benefits of XR optics were multi-generational upgrades, reduced transceiver count, and simplified router hardware. By utilizing 25G subcarriers as a fundamental building block of higher-speed interfaces, service providers can make the transition from 400G to 800G coherent pluggables without having to upgrade both ends of the multipoint connection. That’s the simplicity of multi-generational upgradability.

Chart: Most Significant Benefits for Point-to-Multipoint XR Optics TechnologyFigure 2: Most significant benefits for point-to-multipoint XR optics

Where to Stick Your Pluggables

The emergence of 400G coherent pluggables is certainly a driving force as service providers revisit their network architectures and consider a more tightly integrated IPoDWDM approach for certain applications. It is important though to realize that coherent pluggable optics are not new. 200G pluggable optics (CFP-2) have been widely deployed for about five years. However, most of those deployments have been in combination with DWDM optical networking systems or disaggregated transponders and not directly into routers. The smaller QSFP-DD package for some 400G pluggables has the potential for greater deployment in routers, but in the near term, 400G coherent pluggables will be deployed in both optical networking systems (especially for the metro) and routers. This is reflected in the responses to a question that asked service providers where they physically plan to deploy 400G pluggable optics. As shown in Figure 3, service providers plan to deploy them in integrated DWDM systems and disaggregated transponder shelves as well as with switches/routers.

Chart: Plans for Placement of 400G Pluggable Optics

Figure 3: Plans for physical placement of 400G pluggable optics

Where to Buy Your Pluggables

With optical systems vendors, optical component vendors, and some routing vendors all developing coherent pluggable modules, one might ask what preferences service providers have for where they acquire their 400G pluggable optics with an IPoDWDM solution. That was indeed one of the questions asked in the survey. The top preference was from the DWDM system vendor followed by whichever supplier has the best cost/value, together making up 64% of the responses. 33% preferred to purchase their coherent pluggable optics from either an independent third party or the routing vendor (with 16%). While this is only a single data point from one report, the majority of respondents do not appear to be looking for a bundled routing/coherent pluggable solution, but intend to select their pluggable optics independently.

Chart: Buying Preference for Coherent Pluggable Optics

Figure 4: Buying preference for coherent pluggable optics

So, that’s gonna do it as we wrap up 2021’s industry research projects. But don’t worry. We are already planning for 2022, when we intend to collaborate with some of the industry’s best analysts to dig into more networking challenges, opportunities, attitudes, and behaviors.  As always, we will share the findings and any golden nuggets with you as we acquire them.

Stay safe everyone.

Tim Doiron