High Speed Optical Networking: ‘It Takes a Village’

When purchasing high-speed optical networking systems you must consider more than just transmission performance, as Jonathan Homa of ECI Telecom explains.

The alchemists of our age, scientists and engineers, have transformed chemical compounds like gallium-arsenide, indium-phosphide, and silicon into miniaturized lasers, light detectors, and thin tubes of glass that combine to communicate information over long distances at unimaginably fast speeds.

The raw power and extraordinarily efficient cost performance of high-speed optical networking underlies our global internet economy. We are surrounded by countless consumer, industrial, financial, and social applications that depend on reliable and inexpensive communications – spanning interactions among people, between people and machines, and increasingly, among the machines themselves.

Less apparent are the massive efforts that take place behind the scenes to deploy and operate high-speed optical networks to make them available as a basic resource, like water or electricity. Like the well-known African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child,” this is the successful outcome from the combined contribution of many hands.

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  • Planners – Whether you are deploying a new greenfield optical network, or introducing high-speed capabilities to an existing network, it all starts with planning. Planners consider the different services that will be using the network, the amount of initial and predicted future traffic capacity that will be generated, the physical geographies to be covered, and the extent of redundancy required for network resiliency. The next step is employing specialized algorithms that perform “what-if” analyses to generate different network configurations with various levels of cost and performance. The selected configuration is then translated into a detailed equipment plan.
  • Installers – Like builders working from an architect’s plan, the installers assemble and configure the optical networking equipment at the multiple sites across the network. Included are many different functional components, such as transponders, muxponders, amplifiers, fixed and reconfigurable optical add-drop multiplexers, and layer-1 OTN switches. These all play a part in transmitting and receiving signals over the optical fibers that run between the sites, whose own installations are a separate and often gargantuan affair. The installers’ final step is to test the system using sophisticated measurement sets, like optical spectrum analyzers, to ensure that it works according to specifications.
  • Customizers – The infrastructure of the optical networking system is now in place but it isn’t carrying any customer traffic yet. This is the job of customizers. The customizers create end-to-end service connections across the optical network, based on requests from end-customers, such as Enterprises, as well as internal customers, who are responsible for providing mobile communications or broadband services to residences. The primary parameters are: beginning and end points, the type of service interface like Ethernet, Fibre Channel, or legacy TDM (for voice) traffic, the rate (typically between 1 and 100 Gbps), and the guaranteed availability that dictates what type of backup paths are to be reserved in case of failures. The customizers then use a network management system to set up the required connections from node to node, until the service path is complete.
  • Maintainers – High-speed optical networks, like any complex system, require ongoing monitoring. The main objective is to detect degradation in performance (which could be caused, for example, by natural aging of the transmission equipment, or environmental changes to the fiber) before actual problems occur. This is the task of maintainers, using various remotely controlled and on-site monitoring equipment. They then take necessary preventative measures to ensure the optical network is always in tip-top shape.
  • Emergency Responders – Service-affecting failures inevitably occur. This could be a transponder lacking a backup circuit, a fiber cut, or even a natural disaster like a fire or a flood that affects all of the equipment at a particular node. Here is where the emergency responders spring into action, relying on preset contingency plans or innovating as needed, to restore the network and the services supported, ASAP. In some cases, this may be a simple rerouting of traffic on unused facilities, or in the case of major disasters, might entail bringing in an entire set of temporary equipment in a trailer.
  • Environmentalists – Environmentalists need to ensure that the solutions are power efficient, do not consume too much real-estate, and don’t employ hazardous materials. This may sound like an odd category, but being environmentally responsible always makes good business sense because it saves money, on power or rental bills, or in an extreme case - on lawsuits. Being environmentally friendly is now a standard part of any high-speed optical system.

When you are purchasing a high-speed optical networking system, you must consider how these various roles are supported, on top of the transmission performance. This is critical for efficient low-cost operation over the lifetime of the optical system.

Adaptive Optical Transmission

To put the information-carrying capacity of high-speed optical networks into perspective, consider that a typical full-length movie downloaded over the Internet is about 10Gb of data.

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Meanwhile, a single channel on a one-hundred channel optical fiber can transmit information at over 100Gb per second. If that single channel’s capacity were made available to an end-user, an entire movie can be transmitted in less than a second.

The diagram shows the current capabilities of what is called ‘adaptive optical transmission’, whereby the speed adapts to distance and fiber conditions. For an 800km span, a single channel can transmit at up to 400Gbps. If we drop the speed to 200Gbps, then the span can be increased to over 4000km.

At ECI, we support a full range of capabilities to ensure that our Apollo high-speed optical networks are optimized to customer needs, and always operate at peak performance. These include the LightPLAN™ comprehensive planning system, the LightSOFT® network management and provisioning system, and the LightPULSE integrated health monitoring system.


To learn more about how ECI supports high speed optical networking by ‘providing a village’ for proper planning and support over its lifecycle, please come and visit ECI at AfricaCom, booth # D5b. We look forward to answering your questions.

Jonathan Homa is the Director of Optical Networks Marketing at ECI Telecom.


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