A sense of normalcy surrounded the Optical Fiber Communications Conference held at the San Diego Convention Center in early March 2022.
OFC, the conference for optical communications and networking, safely welcomed over 8,000 attendees and media from across the globe, plus 430 exhibiting companies.
Although masks were required, it did not seem to impact the spirited conversations at all. It was great to be face-to-face with the many of the top suppliers of optical transceivers, test equipment, and other industry vendors. There was a steady stream of traffic, the booths were bustling, and the sessions well-attended.
800G is well on its way . . . 400ZR/ZT+ is finally making headway as multiple vendors have product in beta or early GA . . . 1.2T and 1.6T are showing up on product roadmaps . . . SFP 112, SFP-DD/SFP-DD112, and QSFP 112 are starting to be discussed . . . 50G bi-di parts . . . New and interesting test equipment were all on display.
The 800G DAC options are growing, OSFP is leading the way, but QSFP-DD is close behind. And, as switches become more available, 800G supply will be there for support.
But wait, there’s more!
The work with 800G pluggable options will initially be short-reach data center applications, but the roadmap is there to support common distances up to 40km . . . The ZR/ZR+ efforts at 400G will pave the way for 800G – but do not expect that to occur for another year or so . . . All the efforts for 800G will help support 1.2T for both OSFP and QSFP form factors . . . 1.6T so far is only on the OSFP roadmap, but the QSFP MSA group is working on the 1.6T options for QSFP.
Although not a flashy new product, PON is making steady progress with XGS-PON (10G), 25G, and 50G options . . . It appears as if North America and Europe are headed to 25G while, Asia (China in particular) is moving towards 50G . . . PON will be a wide-open product for the next two to five years as government funding appears to be plentiful.
New variations of existing form factors are being road mapped: SFP-DD, SFP112, SFP-DD112, QSFP 112 and a few other variants. These will allow existing mechanical spacing and chassis/cards to maintain existing footprint and expand switch capacity.
An ongoing question is power consumption and heat dissipation. Both are the struggle of every service provider, data center, enterprise operation, and . . . well, just about everyone. Heat dissipation and cooling will be an ongoing struggle, especially as the “greening” of the data world continues.
Not everything is a shiny transceiver at OFC. Passives, connectors, and fiber management are all points of discussion. Denser passives, fiber management bulkheads, and certain transceivers are requiring the new MDC or MMC connector type. These are ultra-dense products that will allow more fiber in the same space as traditional LC and MPO connectors. Easier to deploy options for passives will be key moving forward – especially as fiber access gets tighter and tighter in mid- and high-rise buildings.
For me, the visits at the various test equipment vendors were both fun and enlightening, particularly as the 800G and higher data rates becomes a need. The key to successful early product deployment is the ability to test the product to ensure it performs as specified.
First-in purchases are not for the faint of heart, as they are often in the mid-six-digit range (with a good possibility of higher costs depending upon features). The good news is the costs will most likely drop in a relatively short period of time.
The need for tighter specs, cleaner fiber plant, and outstanding handling of fiber jumpers are a must. It doesn’t matter how good your test equipment is if you do not follow basic blocking and tackling.
So, what are the bottom-line, big takeaways?
800G is a reality, higher data rates are on the drawing board, OSFP and QSFP, SFP form factors have a long life ahead of them, PON is continuing to expand in scope and data rates, 400ZR/ZR+ is actually making progress with production, test equipment is progressing to support the higher data rates (but be prepared to spend for it!), smaller form-factor connectors are a reality . . . and it was great to be in person for the learning and idea-exchanging!
One parting thought: The fiber cable that all this awesome technology is riding on may be brand new, but quite likely has been in service since 1G days!
Talk about a modern miracle . . . and it’s all happening in our wired/wireless world!