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What Is Driving Optical Networking?

Optical transport technology has become a realistic option for organizations spanning many industries to keep up with the rising demand for increased capacity and rapid bandwidth growth.

April 20, 2020 5 minute read

With the massive growth of over-the-top applications, cloud computing, mobile devices and the need for consumers and employees to have constant access to their data and applications, optical networking solutions are rapidly being adopted by businesses across multiple industries as their bandwidth and distance requirements continue to grow. 

Originally designed to support service providers’ need to move large amounts of data over increasingly greater distances, and to increase or consolidate bandwidth over a single fiber pair through multiplexing, large commercial, federal and enterprise organizations are now considering optical technologies as the solution of choice for their mission-critical networks.

Before we dive into the drivers behind optical, I offer a quick refresher on the technology. 

Watch: Introduction to Optical Networking Playlist

Any sort of fiber network used to connect two sites together requires dark fiber connectivity, which establishes a physical connection between geographically separated locations. 

The most common way of transporting optical traffic between two sites, is by using a dark fiber pair— one individual fiber strand used for transmitting data and another to receive data.   

Wave Division Multiplexing (WDM) is an optical transport technology that divides existing dark fiber into multiple channels of traffic to simultaneously transport several streams of data — similar to increasing the number of lanes on a highway to make the flow of traffic more efficient. 

It’s no secret that the cost to build or lease dark fiber is often very expensive, so if an existing fiber resource can be used to transport multiple data streams over separate channels then the potential cost savings are significant. 

There are two primary types of WDM technology: 

  • Coarse wavelength division multiplexing (CWDM), which typically supports up to eight wavelength channels transmitted through a fiber at the same time.
  • Dense wavelength division multiplexing (DWDM), which supports up to 96 (and theoretically more) simultaneous wavelengths channels, each carrying separate data streams on an individual fiber.

CWDM and DWDM are both effective methods to solve the increasing bandwidth capacity needs and maximize the utilization of both existing and new fiber assets, but the two technologies differ from each other in many aspects.

Drivers for optical transport networks

Read: Seven Key Advantages to Optical Networking Technologies

Organizations today are experiencing fiber exhaust in their networks, meaning the cable counts initially deployed in their optical network are not able to handle today’s demand. 

As a result, organization’s just aren’t getting the most out of their dark fiber. 

Meanwhile, emerging technologies in cellular backhaul, Fiber to the X (FTTx) and enterprise business-class services are creating a need for more fiber capacity. 4G and 5G cellular services require more bandwidth than cellular services needed in years past and therefore require a fiber link to each cell site.

But in most cases, ever-increasing labor and material prices make new fiber construction too costly to consider for many projects.

A provider may own a fiber sheath that runs right past a cell tower, but all its fibers may currently be used to maximum capacity. Providing lit services or dark fiber to cell towers can be very profitable but not if it requires construction to place new fiber for these cell sites. 

Business-class services are becoming popular revenue sources for communications companies, and businesses are often willing to sign long-term contracts and pay more than residential customers. In some cases, businesses require fiber to meet their bandwidth needs. 

The same issue arises here: How is it possible to serve these new customers without having to install new OSP fiber to those sites?

In the past, optical transport networks were traditionally used large telecom carriers and service providers using vertically integrated DWDM systems. These optical transport systems were designed to move large amounts of data traffic across long distances to establish high speed national optical transport networks, making these systems prohibitively expensive and often too complex for private use. 

However, in recent years optical transport solutions have evolved to provide flexible solutions for DWDM to suit the needs of enterprise businesses and data center operators, making it a practical and realistic option. 

Today, optical transport technology has become a realistic option for organizations spanning many industries to keep up with the rising demand for increased capacity and rapid bandwidth growth. 

With the massive growth of over-the-top applications, cloud computing, mobile devices and the need for consumers and employees to have constant access to their data and applications anytime anywhere, optical transport technology is rapidly expanding into business end-users as their bandwidth and distance requirements continue to rise. 

As a result, public sector organizations, utilities, healthcare providers, financial institutions, corporate enterprises and data center operators are considering optical transport to be the solution of choice for their mission-critical networks. 

Indeed, many organizations are operating their own optical transport networks to consolidate high rates of bandwidth and different traffic types across long distances. 

But many people remain unfamiliar with optical transport and WDM technologies, why it exists and how it can be utilized to maximize the use of fiber. 

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