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Notes from Alcatel-Lucent’s Technology Symposium

By Stephen Hardy

Alcatel-Lucent (Euronext Paris and NYSE: ALU) late last week brought analysts and journalists from around the world to Basking Ridge, NJ, for the company’s annual Technology Symposium. The point of the exercise was to convince this motley crew that the company now was headed in the right direction with its new strategy, called The Shift Plan (see “Alcatel-Lucent shifts and optical transport, FTTx shift with it”), and that it has the technical know-how to reach the light it says it can see at the end of the tunnel.

As previously reported, the event opened with a talk from CEO Michel Combes, who explained the plan and why he believes it’s the right way to go (see “CEO Combes makes case for Alcatel-Lucent's shift”). Two days of presentations, breakout sessions, and interviews followed, many of which pertained to optical communications. Here are a few notes on these elements:

» Basil Alwan, president, IP routing and transport, told me that the company at one time looked seriously into combining its XRS 7750 core router with elements of the 1830 Photonic Service Switch to create a router with integrated cutting-edge optical transport capabilities. They ultimately rejected the idea, mainly because they decided that taking up a router slot with a single 100G interface wasn’t economical. This doesn’t mean the router doesn’t have integrated optical transport capabilities because it does – but they’re 10 Gbps. Alwan says the company has adopted an optical integration philosophy that he described as “n-1,” where n is the current state of the art in optical transmission that likely requires a full slot to support. So at some point 100G will move to inexpensive modules that would make sense to integrate into the router; but you’d still want a standalone optical transport system such as the 1830 PSS to handle 400G via slots that are less expensive than the router’s.

» In general, Alwan isn’t a fan of label switch routers with integrated optical transport, either.

» Software-defined networking (SDN) will be the path to convergence of the IP and optical layers, Alwan believes. And while talk of “white-box switches” in the data center likely will lead to discussions and creation of “white-box optical systems,” he doesn’t think such products will be used ubiquitously. Sam Bucci, vice president and general manager, IP Transport Division, added that he doubted such white-box systems would work well in multivendor environments and at carrier scale.

» Speaking of inexpensive 100G interfaces, Bucci said that as silicon photonics advances, Alcatel-Lucent may be among the first to come up with a module smaller than the OIF MSA for applications such as the metro. However, as the industry debates whether or not coherent CFP2 devices should have the DSP onboard, Bucci said purchasing such integrated CFP2 modules from an outside vendor probably wouldn’t make sense for Alcatel-Lucent. Noting that a digital CFP2 would represent a significant integration challenge, given the amount of supporting electronics the DSP requires, Bucci said Alcatel-Lucent favors the continued use of its in-house DSP, in part to ensure interoperability with fielded Alcatel-Lucent systems.

» Alcatel-Lucent supports direct-detect 100G as part of an encrypted metro transport offering. However, Bucci said that the cost difference between direct detect and coherent is dwindling rapidly and should be negligible by the end of next year.

» In the access space, Alcatel-Lucent sources said they expect to have TWDM-PON systems available in 2015 – right around the same time they commercialize G.fast technology for FTTN/FTTC networks. The company touts G.fast as the road to 1 Gbps over copper, even though it doesn’t appear such speeds will be covered in the upcoming ITU-T standard, which should be ratified next year. Right now, Alcatel-Lucent has managed 1.3 Gbps over 70 m. However, putting more than one G.fast signal on the same cable significantly reduces performance; in recent tests with Telekom Austria, the company could only manage 500 Mbps over 100 m in such conditions, even with vectoring applied. Nevertheless, Frederico Guillen, president, Fixed Networks Division, pointed out that VDSL2 with vectoring took a while to evolve to its current performance level. He expressed confidence that G.fast would meet carriers’ 1-Gbps requirements by the time it’s available and needed.

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Stephen Hardy

Stephen has covered fiber optics for more than a dozen years, and communications and technology for more than 25 years. He is responsible for establishing and executing Lightwave's editorial strategy across its digital magazine, website, newsletters, research and other information products. He has won multiple awards for his writing.

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