Windstream claims 1 Tbps milestone using Cisco, Ciena tech

In a new trial Windstream and Cisco claimed the industry’s first successful 1 Tbps transmission over 1,100 kilometers, done across multiple routes on Windstream's Intelligent Converged Optical Network (ICON).

The trial showcased the compatibility of multi-vendor technologies on Windstream's disaggregated architecture, using components from Cisco, Acacia Communications (a Cisco subsidiary) and a third-party line system vendor, Ciena. It also marked progress in Windstream's development of ZR+ modules for high-speed wave services.

In an interview with Fierce Telecom, Director of Engineering Glen Grochowski said Windstream now expects to provide 800-gig service to its customers by mid-2024.

The latest trial transported 1 Tbps from Miami to Jacksonville, Florida. Additionally, Windstream moved 800G over 1,387 km from Miami through Tallahassee, Florida, to Atlanta, Georgia; and completed a roundtrip transport of 600G over an even greater distance (2,774 km) from Miami to Atlanta.

Because ICON is based on a disaggregated, multi-vendor network architecture, Grochowski said Windstream can onboard the next generation of technology “at the speed that the technology is developed and released to the industry.”

Cisco in September announced general availability of its new line card used in the Windstream trial, the NCS 1014 C-Band 2.4T WDM Transponder Line Card, a smaller pluggable compared to previous cards. As Cisco ramps up production, Grochowski said the technology could be deployed into ICON to enable 800G bandwidth wavelengths by mid-year.

Windstream already offers 400G and 100G services, and using the trial's combination of technologies (including Cisco’s new card) will also enable those speed tiers using less space, power and cost over the ICON backbone.

Windstream’s ZR+ target

The new Cisco trial builds on a series of similar efforts by Windstream over the past year, including a 1 Tbps wave deployment over 541 km between Dallas and Tulsa during a live network trial in March 2023, and achieving 400G links over a 1,027 km route in 2022.

John Nishimoto, SVP of products, marketing and strategy, said it’s all part of Windstream’s plan to co-develop a ZR+ with chip manufacturers and other partners. The "ZR+" designation indicates extended reach capabilities beyond the standard "ZR" (Zero Dispersion Shifted Reach) modules, which are designed for better fiber performance over long distances.

“This is just one in a series of events that we've been doing over the past several years, to not only advance the technology, but then actually plug it into our network and use it in production environment,” Nishimoto told Fierce.

In 2022, Windstream teamed with Cisco’s Acacia and component supplier II-VI on a successful interoperability trial of 400G ZR+ modules in a production environment, marking a key milestone on the road to open networks. That Windstream test was conducted over a 1,027-kilometer (about 638-mile) 400G link, which was bookended by a transceiver from Acacia on one side and II-VI on the other.

Essentially, these trials are highlighting the ability to use open, pluggable optics so that Windstream and other operators can cut costs and simplify their networks. Also in 2022, Windstream announced it joined the OpenZR+ Multi-Source Agreement, making it the first service provider to do so.

Nishimoto said the Windstream ICON architecture team is heavily involved in research and development, working to co-design different capabilities with multiple vendors — not to work with any vendor in particular, but to leverage certain technologies. The vendors who pursue the development of those technologies are who Windstream chooses to work with.

“We have the benefit of a disaggregated network, with the ICON network, that enables us to plug brand A in one end, and brand B in another, and interoperate,” said Nishimoto. “So that's the freedom that we have, and the advantage that we have.”