Zayo eyes its 400G, 800G and beyond network evolution

Feb. 22, 2024
Provider ramps up optical wavelength services and enables easier customer interaction with on-demand capabilities.

Having worked at Zayo for over 16 years, Aaron Werley, SVP of engineering at Zayo Group, has a bird’s-eye view into how the competitive provider’s fiber and packet networks' architecture continues to evolve.

He oversees the architecture, network planning, capacity management groups, optical and packet networks. A big part of that network evolution is, of course, fiber.

“Zayo, at its core, is a communications company heavily focused on fiber,” Werley said. “We think fiber is the foundation for our business, so we’ll acquire fiber strategically and grow and build our own in areas where we need it.”  

In the significant markets Zayo serves, it deploys large fiber count cables to meet current demands. “As we go up the stack, we’re seeing demand for higher capacity services across all the layers, and that’s driven some substantial investments in our long-haul optical network.”

Future-proofing network

A big piece of Zayo’s future and current demand centers around 400G services.

Zayo currently provides services to carriers and enterprises over its 400G network in North America with over 250 points of presence (PoPs), covering the most in-demand markets. 

In 2023, Zayo deployed 24 long-haul wave routes 2022 with 926 Tbps of wavelength capacity, enabling 400G services across these routes, spanning more than 20,000 route miles. In 2023, Zayo exceeded the number of new Long Haul Dark Fiber routes deployed in 2022.

It is doing this by leveraging its optical and IP-based network infrastructure. On the optical network, the drive is to make elements more efficient from a cost and operational perspective.

“Our 400G enabled routes cover core arteries that enable not only 400G connectivity but also much more cost-effective and higher performing connectivity," Werley said. "We remove handoffs between disparate systems, make more contiguous routes, and optimize performance by carrying wavelengths over longer distances.”  

Driving 400G and new IP capabilities has also been a critical priority for Zayo. 

In July, Zayo released six new 400G routes, providing what it says is better routing performance, stability, high bandwidth, and reduced pricing. Zayo complemented the new 400G routes with IP PoPs, ensuring a seamless and uninterrupted communication experience. Zayo added 14 neutral data centers in the first quarter and nine in the second quarter across North America.

Through a partnership with Juniper Networks, Zayo has rolled out a 400/800 IP Core upgrade to support 400G connectivity, providing better routing performance, stability, high bandwidth, and reduced customer pricing.

“On top of our wavelength network, we established a pact with Juniper to roll out a 400/800G-capable IP core,” Werley said. “Similar to our wavelength network, we have a strategy on the IP network to have a capacity core, which we will overlay with high capacity edge and access equipment to meet higher capacity customer needs.”

400G demand explodes

Zayo’s network evolution to support 400G reflects the growing interest from its carrier and enterprise customers.

Werley said that it took steps to make 400G services available throughout its network.

“We made a significant bet to enable 400G across our network footprint from a wavelength service perspective,” he said. “In the early phases of the deployment, 400G was not getting as much traction as we initially thought, but in 2023, the demand largely exploded for us.”  

Zayo is now seeing more inquiries from its customer asking for 400G services in central data centers and their data centers. As of the end of 2023, Zayo grew its 400G footprint to 257 POPs.

“We’re seeing the most demand from carrier-neutral data center providers for 400G,” Werley said. “While our footprint is much bigger, we’re doing to where our customers demand service.” 

Wavelength service rising

Likewise, demand for optical wavelength services is rising, particularly with hyperscaler data center operators.

According to Vertical Systems Group, the U.S. wavelength circuit base is driven by double-digit growth for 100+ Gbps connections through 2027.

The research firm found that installations of 400+ Gbps services are emerging as wavelength providers expand availability and roll out new solutions.

Zayo continues to see its wavelength business scale. “There’s a threshold where E-Line service can’t deliver the same amount of dedicated service bandwidth, and that’s where wavelengths become the clear winner,” Werley said. “If you need dedicated bandwidth on a static or dedicated route, wavelengths are the product that can provide that experience.”

An on-demand touch

In the wavelength segment, Zayo has embraced the on-demand delivery concept.

With Waves on Demand by Zayo, the service provider offers automated 24-hour delivery on its most popular wavelength routes. Customers can access 100G wavelengths in minutes.

Werley said that on-demand services are becoming a key customer requirement.

“The on-demand experience has been table stakes in providing services like E-Line and Carrier Ethernet services out of major data centers,” he said. “We’re trying to bring that same experience to wavelengths.”  

Zayo is trying to provide delivery consistency for its customers with its on-demand platform—something that has been an issue for providers overall.

“What we’re solving for is that delivery experience,” Werley said. “Our customers know they are going to have a service delivered even before they need it, so their projects aren’t delayed.”  

Werley likens its on-demand capabilities to how consumers order services from Amazon. Consumers can make an order and get something delivered in two days, for example.

“We’re creating the same experience for customers in that I know I will have this wavelength it takes so much pressure off of their planning needs,” he said.  

Looking towards 800G

As Zayo continues to invest in its optical network to support the transport of new 400GE and 800GE services, it recently conducted a trial of Nokia’s optical technologies to increase spectral/bandwidth efficiency, enable high-speed client services, and lower network power consumption.

Zayo has completed a live field trial of Nokia’s sixth-generation Photonic Service Engine super-coherent optics (PSE-6s), demonstrating 800 Gbps over a single wavelength from LA to El Paso on an 1866 km link.

Also, the two companies achieved a 1 Tbps transmission on Zayo’s LA to Phoenix route over 1004km, using the Nokia PSE-6s.

The trial used Nokia’s PSE-6s implemented in the 1830 PSI-M compact modular transport platform equipped with production-ready DMAT6 line cards.

Using the latest 6th generation technology, the 800 Gbps transmission represents a tripling reach over current 7nm solutions and sets a new North American distance record over a live network. In addition, the 1 Tbps transmission between LA and Phoenix over 150GHz WDM channels shows the ability to reach even higher capacity per wavelength on high-traffic routes.

Werley said what they are trying to accomplish by trialing Nokia’s innovations is to cut costs and points of failure on a wavelength network route by enabling optical signals to travel over longer distances. “By having higher capacity wavelengths be able to travel further, you can regenerate signals less, and you have better spectral efficiency out of a pair of fiber, meaning you have fewer transponders in your network," he said. 

He added that all these elements “lead to a cost per bit savings and reduced exposure.”

Pushing the distance boundaries on an optical wavelength network is familiar for Zayo. Previously, it demonstrated sending signals over 1,000 kilometers with Infinera.

“It’s really to see the order of what’s possible and help push that capability forward and see what we can deploy in our network,” Werley said. “This is not how we operate our network, but it shows what’s possible.”

In areas where Zayo would have to regenerate a signal, new technologies like Nokia’s PSE-6 no longer have to do so. “This effectively reduces my cost to deliver service by 50% and the amount of electronics in the path of that customer that could fail,” Werley said.  

For related articles, visit the Business Topic Center.

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