Analysis: Light years ahead

01 April 2011 |


With the evolution from 10G to 40G networks not nearly complete, operators, content providers and vendors are already heralding the introduction of 100G technology. Kavit Majithia reports.

It would be nearly impossible to find an industry that develops or evolves as quickly as telecoms does. In terms of mobile data, mobile broadband traffic and fixed broadband, the demands for faster speeds and lower latency seem endless and – so it appears – is the evolution of the technology behind the service.

40G networks only reached the telecoms mainstream in 2010; in comparison, 10G networks are still substantially used in large volume deployments. Meanwhile, the adoption of 100G is still relatively small, with operators initially opting to implement trials of the technology. Deployment is slowly gaining traction, however. Network specialist Ciena leads the space with seven commercial deployments. including Verizon, Mobily, SE-ME-WE-4 and Internet2 as its announced adopters. The vendor is presently also holding trials with 25 other companies.

“We have shipped out 6,500 40G coherent networks since May 2008. This figure is considerably larger than our 100G deployments, which started shipping in December 2009. But it appears that a large number of major carriers are going through core refresh programmes and are interested in 100G capabilities,” says John-Paul Hemingway, VP strategic development at Ciena. “Considering these refresh programmes, it is in Greenfield where 40G and 100G options totally dominate the requests right now: that is where operators choose to build a complete overlay network where they were previously leasing bandwidth. Operators will be looking to upgrade existing deployed systems in the ground to see how 40G and 100G could squeeze the most capacity out of existing systems.”

The early adopter 

Only last month, Verizon announced its deployment of a 100G Ethernet link on its IP backbone using Ciena and Juniper’s offering. The company will run the connection across its European backbone network, spanning 893km between Paris and Frankfurt. To accommodate increasing demands for data traffic, Verizon confirmed that it aims to set a benchmark towards 100G networks across its entire footprint and will deploy the technology where demand is highest. As capacity increases, the company aims to consolidate all its traffic across one 100G channel rather than several separate 10G links – a strategy that other operators have also opted to implement.

“As bandwidth demand increases, the need to increase the capacity on certain routes is inevitable,” says Glenn Wellbrock, director of optical transport network architecture and design at Verizon. “The advantage for us is that we are at the front end of 100G, and the technology holds several advantages over 40G, especially when it comes to standards, as there is a dedicated and focussed approach to its implementation.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the Optical Internetworking Forum (OIF) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) have all established standards for 100G and as a result, component makers, equipment vendors and carriers are all on the same page as this technology is developed. 100G acceptance has moved a lot quicker than 40G did.”

Why 100G?

With question marks over 40G technologies, market watchers are seeing an increasing number of vendors attempting to completely bypass the adoption of this network by jumping from 10G per wavelength right to 100G. As demands for data and investments in enterprise services increase, it places a greater demand on vendors to provide technologically compliant solutions to accommodate a growing number of services that operators need to provide.

100G networks have a  requirement to provide optical transport over the wide area network (WAN), over long distances and between data centres to connect financial centres, between London and New York for example. There are also intra-office requirements, connecting a router in a carrier wire centre to an optical transport system within that same wire centre for transmission of the data to the WAN. Routers can be connected to WDM transport gear via 10G interfaces, and operators are now trying to increase interface capacities to 40G and 100G. These interfaces are short – tens to hundreds of metres only – and there are many of them, so lowering cost is often a bigger factor than increasing performance. On the WAN links, however, distances can exceed 1,500km, so performance becomes a huge issue and cost is less of a factor. Alcatel-Lucent, presently, is the only vendor that has 100G available on both its optical transport systems and its router.

“The key driver for deployments is the economics, the lowest cost per bit,” believes Dana Cooperson, analyst at Ovum. “40G is actually gaining a wider economic viability for carriers, with China Telecom recently updating its national backbone to 40G and AT&T also having its national backbone converted. Neither of these carriers has started 100G roll-outs yet. In Europe, France Telecom Orange was only due to start 40G deployments late last year and both Deutsche Telekom and Telefonica are only trialling the feasibility of 100G. The economics are still not there for 100G.”

The immediate demand for 100G speeds comes from the service side, with non-carriers with the largest data centres and financial trading institutions showing requirements for the lowest latency interconnects, according to Cooperson. “These companies are driving demand, like we have seen with Internet2’s deal with Ciena, and content providers like Google and Facebook that require interconnection to data centres and other key locations,” she says. “Of course, when there is a new technology on the market like 100G, an operator steps up to be first, as Verizon has done. But at this point, 100G has only been put into service on a few key routes.”

In March 2011, Capacity reported that Saudi Arabian-operator Mobily activated the Middle East’s first 100G network in Riyadh, using Ciena’s ActivFlex 6500 platform. This offering allows operators increased flexibility in upgrading networks from 10G to 40G to 100G simply by slotting the relevant card in the system, enabling a quick response to speed demands. “10G and 40G systems require dispersion compensation, R&D compensation, additional amplifiers and ultimately adds complexity to the network planning exercise,” says Hemingway. “By solving the economics we are able to increase our speed to market.

With Mobily, for example, we have solved the technology complexity that plagues 10G and 40G systems making it simpler to deploy the company’s desired speeds. One of the major advantages of 100G is its simplicity.”

Ciena’s competition

Ciena’s main competitor in the race to provide 100G networks is the French vendor Alcatel-Lucent. The company is working with over 20 operators and network research companies for the deployment of the technology, including deals in Japan with Softbank, in Portugal with Portugal Telecom and with Telefonica in the EMEA region.

In its latest trial in February 2011, the vendor announced a successful optical network connection with Kazakhtelecom to deliver 100G. This trial proved that “100G technologies can scale fibre links to the multi-terabit capacity necessary to handle dramatic traffic growth,” according to Z.A. Zhamanbalanov, managing director of technical development at Kazakhtelecom.

“100G-based demos, field trials and commercial deployments are occurring globally, although most activity to date is in North America, followed closely by Europe and Asia-Pacific,” said Dave Brown, OIF market awareness and education chair at Alcatel-Lucent. “Through such trials, we can track the timing and pace of the network upgrades and transformation projects driven by mobile internet and video traffic demands, while factoring the overall capacity crunch and network cost challenges.”

The race to 100G

With Ciena leading the market space with its deployments, its deal with Internet2 is likely to increase North America’s standing in the deployment of 100G – a region playing catch-up to Europe presently, according to research firm Ovum. Along with Alcatel-Lucent, Huawei also has an active interest in the space. “I’d expect China to not want to be left behind, considering China took 40G deployment leadership from the US last year,” says Cooperson. “For short reach (intra-office),  Alcatel-Lucent, Juniper and Cisco are all  ghting to lead the market and we expect bragging rights to shift quarter to quarter in this most early stage.”

100G appears an economically viable proposition. It appears to be a flexible network that is easy to use and has the capacity to accommodate the increasing demands that are placed on operators as a result of increased activity. The fact is it will be several years before 100G is completely deployed and 40G and 10G become redundant, believes Hemingway. “The deployment of 100G is still a small fraction of 40G deployments. Many emerging markets are looking into implementing submarine cables that are 40G compliant from day one. There is no point deploying 100G wavelengths if you are not effectively using each of those wavelengths, a statement we advocate when we reach deals for deployments.”

Cooperson echoes this view and doubts whether 100G will ever be a service requirement for carriers. “100G is such a huge amount of capacity, but for the Googles, Facebooks, Amazons and financial exchanges of this world there is a real need for 100G interconnects in data centres to limit latency and use interconnect fibre most efficienctly. For carriers, presently, it is unusual for wholesale carriers’ carrier applications to even need 10G connectivity."