Importance of Optical Interconnect Technologies

Optical equipment that interfaces directly with fiber relies on optical interconnect technologies that take digital signals from network equipment, perform signal processing to convert the digital signals to optical signals for transmission over the fiber network, and then perform the reverse functions on the receive side. These technologies also incorporate advanced signal processing that can monitor, manage and reduce errors and distortion in the fiber connection between the transmit and receive sides. Advanced optical interconnect technologies can enhance network performance by improving the capabilities and increasing the capacities of optical equipment and routers and switches, while also reducing operating costs.

The key characteristics of advanced optical interconnect technologies that dictate performance and capacity include:

  • Speed. Speed refers to the rate at which information can be transmitted over an optical channel and is measured in Gbps.
  • Density. Density refers to the physical footprint of the optical interconnect technology. Density is primarily a function of the size and power consumption of the technology.
  • Robustness. Robustness refers to the ability of an optical interconnect technology to compensate for the distortion that accumulates through the fiber network and prevent and correct errors introduced by the network.
  • Power Consumption. Power consumption refers to the amount of electricity an optical interconnect technology consumes. Lower power consumption permits improved density and product reliability, and results in lower operating expense for electricity and cooling.
  • Automation. Automation refers to the ability of an optical interconnect technology to handle network tasks that historically were required to be performed manually, such as activation and channel provisioning.
  • Manageability. Manageability refers to the ability of an optical interconnect technology to monitor network performance, detect and address network issues easily and efficiently, which helps increase reliability and reduce ongoing maintenance and operational needs.

As they build their network service offerings, cloud and service providers and the network equipment manufacturers weigh these characteristics differently based on the particular demands and challenges they face. For example, cloud or service providers operating long-haul networks that transmit large amounts of data between Boston and San Francisco have relatively few connection points in their networks and may be more sensitive to speed and manageability of the optical interconnect and less focused on power consumption. In contrast, metro network operators or cloud or service providers operating inter-city or intra-city networks may face space and power constraints, as well as constantly changing workload needs, and be most focused on density, power consumption and automation.

Improvements in these characteristics can lead to reductions in development costs for network equipment manufacturers, who might otherwise need to develop their own optical interconnect technologies. In addition, improvements in these characteristics can lead to reductions in acquisition and development costs for network equipment manufacturers who incorporate third-party optical interconnect technologies into their equipment, which in turn can reduce capital costs for cloud and service providers. Further, improvements in power consumption, automation and manageability can result in reduced operating costs for cloud and service providers.