With a sharp focus on optimizing dollars per gigabit per kilometer, service providers drove higher-speed Ethernet and longer-reach solutions for decades. Historically, they faced a fundamental geography problem—how to get huge amounts of traffic quickly from one city to another across their service footprints.
The environment has evolved. Today, content is replicated much closer to the metro areas that they serve, and service providers often are no longer the first adopters of Ethernet’s absolute highest speeds.
However, the volume of consumption that service providers drive is so immense that they continue to help fuel innovation of Ethernet technology. Service providers’ multi-service aggregation needs continue to grow with support for router connections, Ethernet Passive Optical Network (EPON), optical transport network (OTN), and wired and wireless backhaul.
Dell’Oro Group in June 2022 reported that the North America and Caribbean and Latin America (CALA) regions led the worldwide service provider router and switch market in the first quarter of 2022 with double-digit revenue growth. Network expansions for internet and cloud backbones, mobile transport, and broadband aggregation composed the bulk of North American projects, the report found; scaling mobile backhaul infrastructure drove the CALA growth.
“Strong demand for SP Routers in North America and the CALA region was driven by the ramping adoption of 400-Gbps technologies by Cloud SPs and capacity expansions by Telecom SPs,” said Ivaylo Peev, senior analyst at Dell’Oro Group, in introducing the June 2022 report. “As SPs continued increasing investments by working on a large number of use cases across a broad area of network segments.”
5G mobile deployment in particular is fueling especially dramatic increases in both fronthaul and backhaul applications, which continues to push Ethernet requirements for higher rates and longer distances. In short, a lot of traffic is hitting cell towers, and that traffic needs to be brought up into the network with very accurate timing. The evolution of 5G is driving the whole backhaul/fronthaul discussion.
Ericsson wrote in its June 2022 Mobility Report: “5G is scaling faster than any previous mobile generation. By the end of this year, we expect 5G subscriptions to reach 1 billion. We see a strong growth when it comes to mobile data traffic. Globally mobile network data traffic has doubled in the last two years, driven by continuing growth in smartphone usage, mobile broadband and the digitalization of societies and industries. By the end of 2022, the average monthly usage per smartphone is expected to surpass 15 GB, and then grow to 40 GB by the end of 2027.”
Indeed, Gartner predicts 60% of communications service providers to offer commercializable 5G services by 2024—up from 10% in 2020. Michael Porowski, senior principal research analyst at Gartner, explained, “The COVID-19 pandemic spiked demand for optimized and ultrafast broadband connectivity to support work-from-home and bandwidth-hungry applications, such as streaming video, online gaming, and social media applications.”
With global consumption of video across devices for business and residential services alike, the pressures on service providers show no signs of abating.
Paving the way forward
Several efforts are underway within the IEEE 802.3 Ethernet Working Group to support service providers’ growth moving forward:
- The IEEE P802.3db 100 Gb/s, 200 Gb/s, and 400 Gb/s Short Reach Fiber Task Force has completed its work in addressing requirements around higher data rates and higher density using lower-cost optical solutions for the shortest links in data centers up to at least 100 m and 50 m (such as server-attachment).
- Recently, the IEEE P802.3cs Increased-reach Ethernet optical subscriber access (Super-PON) Task Force completed work on IEEE Std 802.3cs-2022, focused on the need to increase coverage and reach of passive optical networks (PONs) serving more subscribers at greater distances (up to at least 50 km) from optical line terminal (OLT) locations with downstream at 10 Gbps and upstream at 2.5 or 10 Gbps.
- The IEEE P802.3cw 400 Gb/s over DWDM Systems Task Force is at work to address interconnecting distributed data centers with interfaces capable of at least 80 km or where fiber availability demands multiple instances of Ethernet over DWDM systems.
- The IEEE P802.3cx Improved PTP Timestamping Accuracy Task Force is working to define optional Ethernet enhancements in support of ITU-T Recommendation G.8273.2 sub-nanosecond performance requirements so that the technology could be applied in new applications requiring interwork of implementations and more stringent time synchronization.
- The IEEE P802.3df 400 Gb/s and 800 Gb/s Ethernet Task Force and IEEE P802.3dj 200 Gb/s, 400 Gb/s, 800 Gb/s, and 1.6 Tb/s Ethernet Task Force are exploring the Ethernet MAC parameters, physical layer specifications, and management parameters entailed by providing solutions to meet the growing bandwidth needs of cloud-scale data centers, internet exchanges, co-location services, content delivery networks, wireless infrastructure, service provider and operator networks, as well as video distribution infrastructure.
- The IEEE P802.3dk Greater than 50 Gb/s Bidirectional Optical Access PHYs Task Force is developing an IEEE Project Authorization Request (PAR) and responses to the IEEE Criteria for Standards Development (CSD) around higher-speed bidirectional optics for access networks than are supported by existing standards.
As illustrated in the Ethernet Alliance’s Ethernet Roadmap and this Lightwave blog series, Ethernet’s adoption continues to spread across application spaces with increasing diversity in its rates and implementation:
- New higher-capacity modules are being introduced to support multiple ports of a lower rate of Ethernet as their primary purpose.
- In some cases, the new higher rate of Ethernet that a module can support is in process to be standardized, such as with 800-Gbps and 1.6-Tbps Ethernet.
- A new co-packaged optics approach promises target implementation capacity that goes well beyond even the rates of Ethernet in consideration (e.g., 3.2 Tbps).
Already, the Ethernet Alliance is planning for future iterations of the publicly available roadmap, and we encourage service providers to participate in the process and offer their unique perspectives and experiences. Please visit our website to engage.
Peter Jones is the chair of the Ethernet Alliance. He is a Distinguished Engineer in the Cisco Networking HW team. He is active in IEEE 802.3. He works on the evolution of technology to add value to physical infrastructure and make technology consumable.
Dr. Jeffery J. Maki is a member of the board of directors of the Ethernet Alliance as treasurer and an IEEE 802.3 Ethernet voter. He is a Distinguished Engineer II at Juniper Networks working on cloud optics.
Mark Nowell is an advisory board chair for the Ethernet Alliance. He is a Cisco Fellow in Cisco’s Optics and Optical Systems Group. His focus is on next-generation interconnect technology innovation to meet Cisco’s needs.