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Would You Buy a Tesla that Can’t Even Take You Across Town?

portrait of Tim Doiron

March 24, 2020
By Tim Doiron
Sr. Director, Solution Marketing

With reach of over 950 km, it’s time to reimagine where 800G can take you with Infinera’s ICE6 optical engine

If there’s one thing we all agree on, it’s that bandwidth growth isn’t slowing anytime soon. As more and more of our lives and businesses are online and in the cloud, network operators need increasingly cost-effective solutions to keep up. Just as driving a Tesla with an advanced electric engine lowers your cost per mile, one of the best ways to lower your data transmission cost per bit is with a more advanced optical engine.

Enter Infinera’s 800G optical engine, the sixth-generation Infinite Capacity Engine (ICE6). 800G-based transmission provides a significant advantage in both cost and power per bit compared to prior generations of technology by enabling a single optical transceiver to transmit and receive more information.

But in the world of optical networking, it’s not just about generating an 800G signal. As with electric vehicles, performance matters. 800G solutions that only enable transmission over a short distance provide only a small incremental benefit to network operators and address a relatively small portion of their networks – in many instances, less than 10% of links.

The value of those optical engines is greatly diminished when they need to be tuned down to less efficient rates such as 600G or 400G to reach the necessary distances.  It’s like buying a Tesla that can’t even get you across town before running out of power – fun, but not particularly useful.

With a solution that can transmit 800G across nearly 1,000 kilometers like ICE6, network operators can address more than 40% of links in many networks. This provides a 25 to 50% improvement in cost, power, and spectral efficiency versus less capable solutions. When you buy a Tesla to get the highest-performance and most cost-efficient transportation, you want to be able to realize those benefits over meaningful distances.

To put 950 km into perspective, that will take you nearly halfway across Europe. The question is, where will you take Infinera’s 800G optical engine? From Paris to Prague? From New York City’s Times Square to Toronto? From Seoul to Shanghai? From San Diego to San Francisco? There are so many possibilities (map).

And one of the best parts about this accomplishment is that it was achieved over industry-standard fiber and a third-party optical line system, meaning that this is exactly the kind of performance that network operators should expect to see in their networks irrespective of which vendors’ equipment they are currently using. In our Groove (GX) Series, our ICE6 optical engine can enable high-performance, efficient transmission on existing networks – enabling peak performance over great distances and delivering the highest spectral efficiency and the lowest cost and power per bit.

This trial focused on performance at 800G, but ICE6 is also capable of equally impressive performance at 600G and 400G. We’ve already proven 600G performance on live networks at well over 1,600 km, and we’re in the process of conducting additional network field trials that can truly test our capabilities.

While the ICE6 optical engine’s record-breaking results are incredibly exciting, the analytical side of my brain is drawn to “how” these results are possible.  Although a lot of individual contributions and technical decisions come to mind, it comes down to two key areas:  deep vertical integration and innovation that matters.

Deep Vertical Integration with Holistic Co-design

Infinera’s 20+ years of optical transmission experience and knowledge are embodied in our 800G ICE6 optical engine.  At the heart of our Optical Innovation Center (OIC) are some of the smartest minds in the industry. ICE6 combines Infinera’s sixth-generation photonic integrated circuit with in-house-developed 7-nanometer dual-channel 800G-per-wavelength digital signal processing.

As we continue to push baud rates closer to 100 Gbaud and advanced modulation rates including 64QAM, material selection, packaging, and fabrication all become critical.  Infinera’s materials expertise with indium phosphide delivers superior optical efficiency for high baud rates.  Module packaging is also critical, as response times are in the femtoseconds range, requiring packaging technologies and PIC-DSP co-design techniques for performance and reliability.  Advanced fabrication techniques are also needed to go from a handful of pilot samples to large-scale production volume. Our OIC and in-house fabrication facilitates transition from trial to production volume to enable modules like our ICE6 optical engine to rapidly ramp to meet market demands.

Innovation that Matters

At the heart of our ICE6 optical engine is innovation that matters.  We aren’t looking for innovation for innovation’s sake. We’re seeking innovation that has a material impact on real-world networks.  Three key ICE6 innovations that enable our record-breaking performance are Nyquist subcarriers, long-codeword probabilistic constellation shaping (LC-PCS), and dynamic bandwidth allocation (DBA).

  • Second-generation Nyquist subcarriers: Nyquist subcarriers give us the ability to subdivide the wavelength, reduce the effects of chromatic dispersion, and in effect create more parallel lanes on the data highway. If any lane has impairments or potholes, we can reduce the speed of that individual lane while all the other lanes continue at top speed.
  • LC-PCS: LC-PCS is a technology that enables us to look through the data stream to optimize symbol assignments such that symbols that require less power are transmitted more frequently while symbols that require more power are sent less frequently. By matching on a long sequence, we can achieve additional performance gains and symbol assignments, vs. algorithms that create their PCS symbol constellation over a smaller data stream.
  • DBA: When matched with Nyquist subcarriers, the same ability to reduce the speed on impaired lanes (i.e., subcarriers) also enables us to accelerate the speed of lanes that are smooth and pothole free. DBA is a great way to ensure optimal data throughput over greater distances by dynamically optimizing the speed of each individual lane based on existing path conditions.

What’s Next?

Looking forward, expect additional product and field trial announcements about our ICE6 optical engine.  We are collaborating with network operators to maximize optical performance and reach at all rates, including 400G and 600G in addition to 800G.  We will continue to challenge conventional thinking and constantly frame our decisions from a customer-centric view.  We will continue to ask how every decision we make will improve our customers’ business and operational experience to deliver services faster and more easily.

If you’re thinking about the places 800G can take you, we invite you to give Infinera and our ICE6 optical engine a spin.