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Optical networking trends in emerging market

The ongoing surge in demand for high-bandwidth video and data services is forcing telecom service providers (TSP) to rapidly expand their optical fiber networks to enhance coverage of high-speed fiber-broadband (FTTX) services to homes and businesses, bolster inter-datacenter bandwidths, and to increase both terrestrial and subsea backhaul capacities. However, besides investing in passive OFC (optical-fiber cable) infrastructure, global TSPs are also experimenting with new optical networking technologies and architectures to efficiently manage this surge.

In this article, we discuss three popular, yet not widely talked, trends in optical networking technologies that are prominently seen in emerging markets.

Convergence of optical transport and access. The pandemic has reinforced the need for TSPs to build a more flexible and agile networks that can offer their customers wider broadband connectivity choices. With Covid-19 inducing a greater adoption of work from home, several traditional households have morphed into home offices that require always-on, reliable, and guaranteed services from their ISPs.

Since fiber penetration and right-of-way constraints are an issue in many developing countries, fixed-wireless access (FWA) is emerging as a good alternative to fiber broadband by eliminating coverage gaps and ensuring a faster rollout of broadband services. This has motivated the deployment of access-agnostic architectures, wherein multiple fixed-function access network elements at the ISP POPs, are being replaced by universal broadband equipment that combines FWA BBU (baseband unit), FTTX OLT (optical line terminal), and Carrier Ethernet aggregation sub-systems in a single network element.

Leading innovators like Tejas Networks have further integrated optical transport functions within the same platform, thereby delivering 50 percent+ savings in the total cost of network ownership.

Open networks for bandwidth scaling. The exponential growth in data traffic in the last two years has posed a major challenge for TSPs in developing countries that were operating 10G DWDM networks. Wholesale transformation of these legacy backbone networks to higher-capacity 100G/100G+ coherent DWDM technologies is time-consuming, expensive, and potentially service-disruptive. Alien Wavelength technology is a cost-effective bandwidth-scaling option that enables such TSPs to launch foreign/alien 100G/100G+ waves on unused optical channels in an incumbent 10G infrastructure, with no inter-operability issues.

State-of-the-art solutions, such as those from Tejas, also support advanced capabilities like the elimination of guard bands between 10G and 100G/100G+ DWDM wavelengths in order to maximize spectral utilization. Tejas’s alien wavelength offering also includes sophisticated alien cloud simulators and design toolkits that help operators run pre-deployment simulations and conduct comprehensive physical layer studies prior to actual rollout, thereby reducing network downtime, optimizing field engineer’s efforts, and minimizing the overall cost and time of deployment. Further, by combining with sub-lambda grooming at the OTN layer, bandwidth efficiency can be significantly increased, thereby reducing the overall cost per bit of the network.

Circuit technologies are still widely prevalent. Over the last decade or so, we have seen optical transport networks transitioning from circuit-switched technologies (e.g., PDH, SDH, SONET) to pure-packet transmission technologies (e.g., Carrier Ethernet, MPLS-TP, IP/MPLS) to cater to the growing usage of data-centric applications. However, in most emerging markets and even in some of the developed markets, there is a significant overhang of legacy TDM interfaces in mobile networks (e.g., 2G BTS), enterprises (e.g., E1/T1 PBX), and utilities (e.g., RTUs), which have to be reliably transported over these modern packet networks. Circuit emulation (CEM) technology enables these telecom entities to translate low-speed TDM signals to appropriate packet formats, while ensuring accurate time synchronization, fast protection switching, real-time performance monitoring, and stringent latency, jitter, and wander performance.

Carrier-class CEM implementations, such as those from Tejas, are today capable of simultaneously emulating thousands of PDH and SDH signals (up to 10Gbps), and have been successfully deployed in large-scale networks worldwide. Finally, circuit-switching in its OTN avatar is dominant in the core of the optical network as a cost-effective alternative to multi-terabit packet switches and routers.

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