WDM-PON is a key component in next generation access

Recent experiments show how WDM-PON can fulfill next generation requirements for greater capacity and longer reach, including over ring-based architectures.

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By Einar In De Betou, Christian-Alexander Bunge, Henrik Åhlfeldt, and Magnus Olson

Many industry analysts believe that the increasing requirements for bandwidth scalability, quality of service, and support of the emerging traffic patterns required by video and broadcast standards will make copper networks insufficient for many high-bandwidth services in the future. Fiber availability is not universal, and the economics of new fiber deployments are often challenging; nevertheless, fiber will undoubtedly push deeper into access networks to support business services, mobile backhaul/fronthaul, multitenant buildings/fiber to the cabinet, and in some cases fiber to the home (FTTH), too. Yet today‘s fiber-based approaches, including TDM-PON and active point-to-point Ethernet, probably won't meet the likely requirements of the next generation of bandwidth-intensive traffic, either.

WDM-PON is a passive optical networking approach -- currently being developed by several companies -- that can be used to more adequately address these challenges over fiber-based networks. A WDM-PON design can be used to separate optical-network units (ONUs) into several virtual point-to-point connections over the same physical infrastructure, a feature that enables efficient use of fiber compared to point-to-point Ethernet and offers lower latency than TDM-based approaches. A notable advantage of this approach is the combination of high capacity per user, high security, and longer optical reach. WDM-PON therefore is highly suitable for applications such as mobile backhaul or business Ethernet service provision.

Thus WDM-PON is poised to become the disruptive next generation access architecture. It will enable high-speed access for businesses, mobile backhaul, and eventually FTTH. WDM-PON also will enable operators to build converged networks and consolidate existing access networks, including potentially eliminating central offices to reduce cost while boosting performance.

There are several types of WDM-PON systems under development. They all have in common the use of passive, temperature-hardened DWDM optical filters in the remote node and colorless ONUs.

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FIGURE 1. Basic WDM-PON architecture.

WDM-PON technology

WDM-PON provides the dedicated bandwidth of a point-to-point network and the fiber sharing inherent in PONs. The architecture is somewhat similar to that of EPON and GPON; instead of the power-splitter approach used in TDM-PON architectures, WDM-PON uses an arrayed-waveguide-grating (AWG) filter that separates the wavelengths for individual delivery to the subscriber ONUs (see Figure 1).

A simple, plug-and-play implementation is based on wavelength-locked or tunable lasers. Self-tuning "colorless" ONUs can be used at the subscriber sites to simplify inventory and spare-part handling. Colorless optics not only simplify operations, but also reduce deployment costs, since they don't need the expensive wavelength-stability components that traditional fixed and tunable optics require. There are multiple approaches to the colorless ONU technology.

In one approach, the wavelength of the ONU transmitter is controlled by injection of a "seed" signal into the transmitter (e.g., a wavelength-locked Fabry-Perot laser or reflective semiconductor optical amplifier). The seed signal injected into the transmitter could come from broadband ASE light sliced through the filters in the system or from a DFB laser array. In a self-seeding version of this approach, the seed light is provided by feedback of broadband light from the transmitter itself. The passive filtering of the seed light in the remote node determines the wavelength of the ONU transmitter.

In a different approach, the colorless ONU contains a singlemode wavelength-tunable laser, which is able to tune to the appropriate wavelength that matches the remote node filter port.

Below 10-Gbps channel bit rates, the injection-seeded method provides a cost-efficient approach. As an example, a wavelength-locked Fabry-Perot transmitter can be integrated into an MSA SFP pluggable form-factor module, which enables the use of third-party CPE devices. A modified EDFA gain block in a 70×90 MSA form factor could be used to generate the broadband ASE light that's used as a seed signal in the system.

At 10-Gbps bit rates, tunable-laser technology offers an alternative to the injection-seeded approach. The tunable-laser technology developed for the metro/long-haul market has matured significantly over the past couple of years and is able to give a good cost-per-bit ratio when high capacity is needed.

If the WDM-PON system is properly designed, then it's possible to mix different transmission technologies. By following certain design rules during the installation of the WDM-PON system, it's possible to allow step-wise channel upgrades to higher bit rates when the demand arises. These design rules ensure that channel OSNR requirements will be met in the presence of reflections and that inter-channel crosstalk is avoided. The result is an open and flexible access network that can support many applications and services over the same infrastructure. WDM-PON thus becomes an optical option for the access network as and where it makes sense.

Given its ability to help service providers cope with current bandwidth demands as well as the next potential broadband access bottleneck, WDM-PON is becoming an important technology to consider in terms of its benefits and market timing. As with any emerging technology, service providers need to consider the optimal strategy for initial deployment of WDM-PON. That includes how they could use WDM-PON for additional network applications as the technology matures and its costs come down.

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FIGURE 2. Architectural scenario explored in the collaboration between Transmode and Deutsche Telekom Hochschule für Telekommunikation.

The latest generations of WDM-PON systems are now gaining traction with operators around the globe for field deployment, lab trials, and evaluations. It's clearly the early stage of WDM-PON deployments, but progress has started and 2014 looks to be a pivotal year for the technology.

Where can WDM-PON go next?

The current generation of commercial WDM-PON systems based on reflective ONU technology is optimized for applications up to 20 km, 40 channels, and 1 Gbps per customer. Current research focuses on how to scale WDM-PON toward higher bit rates and longer reach. Forward error correction is a key technology for scaling the current generation of WDM-PON technology to higher bit rates, longer reach, tighter channel spacing, or a combination thereof. An important challenge is to package the technology in an MSA form-factor pluggable module to maintain its benefits in cost and compatibility with third-party equipment.

A typical requirement for next generation metro/access systems is to enable node consolidation. That means operators can reduce opex by closing down portions of their central offices; at the same time, this goal requires the optical signals to bridge longer distances than what is typical of the access networks of today. Thus, when routing WDM-PON signals through the metro part of the network, it becomes necessary to support ring architectures as an alternative to the basic tree structure.

In a ring structure, cascaded filters may decrease the effective channel passband. Since the spectral width of the WDM-PON signal is wider than the signals from a normal DFB source, such filtering effects may affect transmission.

In a recent evaluation project, a partnership between Transmode and Deutsche Telekom Hochschule für Telekommunikation of Leipzig, Germany, achieved 140-km long reach WDM-PON transmission over a ring-based access-network architecture. The partnership investigated the effects of using WDM-PON based on ASE-seeded wavelength-locked transmitters in a ring-based network architecture with cascaded OADM nodes. Transmission at 1.25 Gbps over 140-km singlemode fiber was demonstrated using an EDFA and dispersion compensation.

The results were first published at ECOC 2013 (In de Betou, Bunge, Åhlfeldt, and Olson, "140km Long-reach WDM-PON Test for Ring-based Access Network Architecture"). This partnership has investigated what opportunities could be provided by WDM-PON technology in such network topologies by studying experimentally the influence of narrow filtering and maximum reach.

The experimental testbed (in Leipzig) was built around Transmode's TM-Series iWDM-PON system to create an optical line terminal (OLT) (see Figure 2). The OLT has a transponder line card that hosts pluggable wavelength-locked Fabry-Perot transceivers, ASE seed light sources, dual circulators for up- and downstream, and a 40-channel multiplexer based on an AWG.

To reach distances beyond 100 km, amplifiers, dispersion compensation, and remote ASE seed sources were used. While an experimental field trial today, it shows that WDM-PON may well continue to evolve to support longer reach and more sophisticated network architectures in the future supporting a broader range of deployment scenarios.

EINAR IN DE BETOU and HENRIK ÅHLFELDT are opto engineers and MAGNUS OLSON is director, hardware engineering at Transmode Systems AB.

PROF. DR.-ING CHRISTIAN-ALEXANDER BUNGE is professor for optical-communication technology and photonics at Deutsche Telekom AG, Hochschule für Telekommunikation Leipzig in Germany.

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