Illuminating the Future: What 2024 will bring for optical networking

Dec. 20, 2023
Service providers have an array of new technologies to increase speed and automate network functions in the coming year.

By Rob Shore / Infinera

2024 promises to be another interesting year for optical networking. The industry should be past its post-pandemic recovery, including having most of the supply chain and subsequent backlog buildups behind us.

As such, network operators can truly get back to looking forward, enhancing their networks, and planning for new services.

Welcome to the Party – CSPs begin their 400G coherent pluggable journey
One of the significant trends you will see in 2024 is the 400G pluggable revolution finally ramping up in network applications. To date, 400G pluggable deployments have been dominated by low output power (-10 dBm) ZR and ZR+ technology and have been deployed mainly in simple point-to-point fiber data center interconnect (DCI) networks for hyperscalers. Traditional network operators have been slower to adopt 400G pluggables as their networks require a higher-performance pluggable, including 0 dBm launch power and incremental operational features such as direct management, out-of-band noise suppression, and higher optical signal-to-noise ratio (OSNR) tolerance. These network-grade pluggables saw initial availability in 2023 and will likely see a significant uptick in deployments in 2024 in communication service provider (CSP) networks.

Expanding the optical highway – adding fiber capacity in the era of Shannon
Another significant trend in 2024 is a shift in direction for increasing fiber capacity. Historically, network operators could expect a 20-30% improvement in spectral efficiency with each new generation of coherent optical engine. However, with sixth-generation coherent technology (such as Infinera’s ICE6) capable of supporting 800 Gb/s transmission on a single wavelength, the industry has drawn close enough to the Shannon limit that successive generations will provide more modest spectral efficiency gains (e.g., ~10-20%). As such, network operators will begin exploring alternative ways to increase the data each fiber can carry. The most straightforward solution is to increase the amount of usable spectrum. Some equipment providers have answered this call with solutions that expand the usable spectrum from the extended C-band (4.8 THz) to the Super C-band (6.1 THz). This technology provides nearly a 30% increase in fiber capacity. With the latest generation of transponder technology and in conjunction with the Super L-band, these solutions can now offer almost 100T of capacity per fiber. 2024 will see network operators begin selecting and deploying this newer generation of expanded-spectrum optical line systems.

Automation of the open way
Over the past decade or so, there have been two competing objectives for network operators. The first is to improve network efficiency and significantly reduce costs by opening up their networks to enable the integration of innovative technologies from a more comprehensive array of solution providers. The second is to reduce the complexity of operating their networks by increasing automation. These two objectives often conflict with one another as multi-vendor open networks have traditionally introduced increased operational complexity. Historically, solution providers have attempted to solve this problem with sizeable overarching network orchestration solutions, which raised their complexities and largely failed to solve the problem. In 2023, we saw the increasingly positive reception of an alternative approach based on discrete modular software solutions that tackle the challenges of managing open networks one building block at a time. In 2024, we will see several network operators begin to adopt this approach to managing these networks and, as such, will see a sharp uptick in the number of genuinely open connectivity networks.

3-nm-based DSP solutions win the 800G coherent pluggables race
The following prediction relates to 800G pluggable optics. 2024 will see the commercial availability of the first generation of 800G coherent pluggable optics based on 5-nm digital signal processor (DSP) technology. While this technology will see some deployments in niche applications, we predict the bulk of the market will wait for the next generation of 3-nm DSP solutions that provide several critical incremental features. These features include multi-vendor interoperability with probabilistic constellation shaping modes, significantly reduced power consumption and superior reach.

To terabit…and beyond
While the deployment of 800G (sixth-generation) coherent optical engines will continue in earnest, 2024 will see the first deployments of wavelengths capable of 1.2T+ of capacity per second. Look for initial deployments to occur in the latter part of the year, with the ramp in deployment beginning in 2025. Several vendors have announced next-generation transponder technologies, including Infinera, Cisco/Acacia, Nokia, and Ciena.

Time to innovate – AI/ML traffic deluge sparks innovations in data center connectivity
Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) have been all the rage lately. However, realizing these technologies' benefits will require tremendous capacity and inter- and intra-data center connectivity. While current roadmaps for coherent pluggable optical engines appear on track to handle the inter-data center connectivity requirements, the debate for intra-data center connectivity solutions is ongoing. 2024 will see robust debate and early innovations to address this challenge. Innovations include 100G SERDES, linear drive optics, and co-packaged optics. These innovations must handle the raw throughput required by AI/ML applications while being extremely power efficient.

Onward and upward – 800G coherent pluggable standards mature and 1.6T begins to take shape
While some aspects of the standards for 800G coherent pluggables have been established – including multi-vendor-interoperable probabilistic constellation shaping – the new year will continue to mature. In addition, with OIF’s 1600ZR project kicking off in September 2023, 2024 will see increased discussion on standards for 1.6T coherent pluggables, with emerging first drafts tackling form factors, power, and performance.

We have a Winner – governments announce awards to localize semiconductor manufacturing
For the last few years, governments have passed legislation to provide funding to boost domestic semiconductor manufacturing and increase supply chain security. In 2024, we expect to see the first set of winners of grants from these programs. While the full impact of this funding will not be felt for several years, 2024 will mark an important step toward achieving the strategic goals of revitalizing domestic semiconductor research and technology leadership while increasing supply chain autonomy and national security.

Illuminating possibilities in 2024
Despite new and lingering macro challenges that impacted the industry in 2023, advances in optical networking continued to light the way to increased capacity, more flexible and power-efficient transport infrastructure, and streamlined network operations. As we look forward to 2024, we are confident the industry will see even further advances and innovations that promise to illuminate new possibilities for network operators and the connectivity experience they offer their end-user customers.

Rob Shore is the Senior VP of Marketing for Infinera. 

For related articles, visit the Optical Tech Topic Center.
For more information on optical components and suppliers, visit the Lightwave Buyer’s Guide.
To stay abreast of optical communications technology, subscribe to Lightwave’s Enabling Technologies Newsletter

Sponsored Recommendations

The Pluggable Transceiver Revolution

May 30, 2024
Discover the revolution of pluggable transceivers in our upcoming webinar, where we delve into the advancements propelling 400G and 800G coherent optics. Learn how these innovations...

The Journey to 1.6 Terabit Ethernet

May 24, 2024
Embark on a journey into the future of connectivity as the leaders of the IEEE P802.3dj Task Force unveil the groundbreaking strides towards 1.6 Terabit Ethernet, revolutionizing...

Coherent Routing and Optical Transport – Getting Under the Covers

April 11, 2024
Join us as we delve into the symbiotic relationship between IPoDWDM and cutting-edge optical transport innovations, revolutionizing the landscape of data transmission.

AI’s magic networking moment

March 6, 2024
Dive into the forefront of technological evolution with our exclusive webinar, where industry giants discuss the transformative impact of AI on the optical and networking sector...