Nokia gears up for 400G with new WaveFabric Elements optical portfolio

While large-scale 400 Gigabit Ethernet deployments won't ramp until next year, Nokia is priming the pump with new additions to its optical portfolio.

On Thursday, Nokia announced its new WaveFabric Elements portfolio, which is comprised of photonic chips, devices and subsystems, including the latest version of its Photonic Search Engine (PSE.) The additions also included silicon photonic optical engines assets from Nokia's deal to buy Elenion Technologies in February.

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While coherent technologies have improved for many years Nokia's Kyle Hollasch, director of product marketing for optical networking, said those technologies were approaching diminishing returns, which is why Nokia has taken a fresh approach to 400G with its WaveFabric Elements.

"Why do we need some sort of a new approach? Coherent technology has really advanced over the past 10 years pretty significantly to the point where we're not really getting any more bandwidth out of the fiber," Hollasch said. "There's going to be additional technologies, such as additional bands like L-band and S-band, and then futuristic things like space division multiplexing, but for now with coherent technology we're right up against that Shannon limit.

"So we're really looking at more of the economics of it and less about raw speeds and raw capacity. We have this idea of application optimized DSPs where, depending on the specific application, the customer can more economically address their network needs as opposed to just having capacity as the answer for everything."

Nokia's WaveFabric Elements combines digital signal processing (DSP) and optics technologies for the emerging end-to-end 400G services. Nokia believes the high degree of vertical integration of its products and technologies will the meet the economic and technical requirements of data center, metro, long haul, and subsea networks. The portfolio also benefits webscale providers, who have been aggressively pursing 400G, as well as mobile and fixed access providers, according to Hollasch.

"When you look at where their revenue comes from, whether it's fixed access or mobile, it's just not easy to get customers to pay more, even for higher speeds and faster services, and so that's probably their biggest challenge," he said. "For webscale companies, where they're not offering telecom services, their issues are purely capacity and cost. They want lots more capacity, but they want the cost down because their volumes are so massive. So they're both economic problems."

How it works

Nokia’s fifth generation coherent DSP family, which includes the Nokia PSE-Vs (super coherent) and the low power, compact PSE-Vc elements, was built on the shoulders of Nokia’s history for developing multiple DSPs that could be optimized for different optical networking applications, form factors and platforms.

The new DSPs work with the CSTAR portfolio of coherent optical engines that came over from Nokia's deal to buy silicon photonics pioneer Elenion Technologies. A new family of pluggable transceiver modules allows Nokia to address pluggables' expanding role in data center, IP and optical networks, as well as emerging markets that also need low-coast connectivity.

Nokia’s 400G pluggable coherent transceiver modules can be employed across a range of platforms and applications, including Nokia’s broad portfolio of optical transport, IP, fixed access and mobile solutions. The portfolio includes 400G ZR/ZR+ capabilities in the QSFP-DD form-factor and a higher performance 400G multi-haul variant in a CFP2-DCO form-factor.

Pluggables are a growing trend across the optical space as web-scale companies, service providers and data center operators look to deploy some 400G gear this year and even more next year. Using ZR/ZR plus pluggable optics allows service providers to eliminate transponders in the their WDM (wavelength-division multiplexing) networks.

The fifth generation PSE employs the second generation of the industry’s only field-proven implementation of Bell Labs-pioneered probabilistic constellation shaping, or PCS. Combining improved algorithms with the enhanced capabilities of a new generation of silicon, Nokia said it supports 90 Gigabaud transmission with 60% greater reach, 40% lower power per bit, and 15% greater spectral efficiency than previous DSP generations.

The PSE-Vc offers programmable capacity from 100G to 400G with metro to long haul capability. Aside of being compact, it also features lower power requirements, which Nokia said enabled integration into a variety of pluggable transceiver modules.

The Nokia CSTAR family of optical engines leverages new silicon photonics and packaging technology, and addresses applications, including intra-data center, metro DCI and long-reach optical transport. They can b paired with PSE-V DSPs within Nokia's platforms, but are also available independently to industry partners for integration into pluggable transceiver modules across the broader market.

The CSTAR family of optical engines is currently shipping to customers. The PSE-V-based platforms and pluggables are slated for general availability in the fourth quarter of 2020. 

Competitive landscape

Hollasch said that Nokia has announced its working with optical companies JBL and Molex , who are developing their own solutions for the digital coherent optic  space. Nokia also has an announced optical customer with Alibaba Cloud.

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Other large vendors in the optical space include Ciena, Arista Networks, Infinera, Cisco, which bought coherent optics company Acacia last year for $2.6 billion, and Juniper Networks. Hollasch said Nokia has other partners in place, some of whom are also competitors, in the optical space, but they haven't been announced to date.

To some extent, dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, which has disrupted supply chains, has put 400G on the backburner a bit, but Hollasch said service providers such as BT are very interested in getting it deployed.

"Everything has gotten slowed down a little bit because network planners are focused entirely on keeping the network running and upgrading it in some of their future projects," he said. The (400G) router ports, the client ports and data center ports are just trickling out this year. It will be mostly a next year thing."