Ciena and the wandering WaveLogic Ai

Ciena's announcement that it would supply its WaveLogic Ai coherent chipset (or "coherent modem," as they call it) was the biggest story of OFC 2017. While I mentioned it a few times in my Video Show Daily and Friday 5 productions, there's more to the story than I could describe on camera. So let's take a more detailed look at the announcement and its ramifications.

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Ciena's announcement that it would supply its WaveLogic Ai coherent chipset (or "coherent modem," as they call it) was the biggest story of OFC 2017 (see "Ciena to license WaveLogic Ai coherent DSP to optical module vendors"). It also was the semi-official convesation starter on buses, on the exhibit floor, and in the press room. While I mentioned it a few times in my Video Show Daily and Friday 5 productions, there's more to the story than I could describe on camera. So let's take a more detailed look at the announcement and its ramifications.

Why they did it

Ciena's Joe Cumello, vice president and head of global marketing, and Helen Xenos, director of portfolio marketing, gave me three reasons the company decided to make its DSP ASIC available to Lumentum, NeoPhotonics, and Oclaro:

  1. To help advance the industry
  2. To garner revenues from markets where they don't sell their coherent-enabled transport systems (such as China)
  3. To "intersect" what the company anticipates will be a near-term demand for 400-Gbps pluggable coherent optical transceivers for 120-km data center interconnect (which, of course, translates into garnering more revenues via ASIC sales).

I asked whether creating an ecosystem in which it was more likely that multiple transport systems vendors would be using the WaveLogic Ai, and therefore would be interoperable with Ciena's boxes, would make Ciena a more appealing option in future RFPs in which network operators insisted upon a multivendor, interoperable result. They allowed this might be the case, but I didn't get the impression this goal was top of mind.

The move opens a new revenue stream for the company. It also increases the odds that Ciena will get a piece of the action if an RFP doesn't go its way or if an internet content provider (ICP) employs a white box approach to data center interconnect that requires pluggable optics.

From the module vendors

All three module vendors are, of course, happy to receive access to the present WaveLogic Ai and looking forward to working with Ciena on future ASIC development (more on this in a second). The three vendors have agreed to develop a 5x7-inch optical module based on a Ciena design. The module would compete against Acacia Communications' AC400 Flex and will support transmission rates up to 400 Gbps. Oclaro has announced it will begin sampling its version by the end of this year; all three vendors should have their 5x7 modules generally available at some point next year, the Ciena sources predicted. Adam Carter, chief commercial officer at Oclaro, said that he's already received significant interest in the 5x7 module, particularly once companies were assured that Oclaro wouldn't feed customers' shipment quantities and other potentially proprietary information back to Ciena.

In terms of what comes next, the press release mentions that "the companies will each contribute to the development of 400G pluggable technologies and the establishment of specifications ahead of relevant industry forums and standards-setting bodies." The work the latter part of this statement describes will generally take the form of contributions to the OIF and similar standards organizations rather than creation of a new MSA, according to Carter. The former, however, may be as straightforward as using Ciena-developed ASICs inside QSFP-DD and OSFP optical transceivers, which Carter said is what he hopes to do. Carter added that he's already told Ciena that he'll want a 7-W version of the WaveLogic chip for this application, in time for him to begin sampling such optical transceivers by the end of next year.

In addition to the challenge of hitting the necessary power consumption levels, Ciena may find it challenging to make a device the operates equally well with the different material systems its chosen supplier ecosystem may use, Carter noted. Silicon-based components have diffferent requirements than those based on indium phosphide, he explained.

Finally, for those of you wondering, I checked with Finisar's Jerry Rawls about why Finisar isn't on Ciena's partner list while I conducted my annual video interview with him (which is coming soon). He confirmed that his company had conducted discussions with Ciena about the initiatives but decided to take a pass.

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