Coherent optics - how will the market evolve in 2022?

Despite being a challenging year for most industries due to the COVID-19 pandemic and global disruptions, 2021 brought a surge in digital usage. With around 1.3 billion years of combined time spent online in 2021 alone, the pressure on bandwidth grew significantly. Here Marcin Bała, CEO of telecommunications equipment vendor GBC Photonics, discusses trends in coherent optics in 2022 that will help optimise networks.

The COVID-19 pandemic meant that people struggled to interact in person and had to rely on virtual communication. For the digital sector, this meant that there were 4.66 billion Internet users in January 2021, an increase of 7.3 per cent from 2020. Similarly, more than 53 per cent of the world population is now on social media. While the pandemic sees no clear end in sight, the telecommunication sector needs to find viable solutions to respond to connectivity demands in 2022.

Coherent optics solves capacity issues by using complex technology to modulate the amplitude, frequency and phase of the light in the fibre. This process increases network performance and flexibility to transport more information on the same fibre. From fibre optics being able to transport just 10 gigabits per second at the beginning of coherent technology, it is now possible to transport up to 800 gigabits per second and even more in the future. Here are a few examples of coherent optics technologies that will help operators keep up with increasing bandwidth demand in 2022:

WDM systems

One way to help optimise networks is through Wavelength Division Multiplexing (WDM) technology. According to market research company LightCounting, the value of WDM technology will increase significantly in 2022 and will continue to do so in the next five years to reach USD 18,000 million in sales. WDM technology allows operators to send data over the same medium using multiple light wavelengths, significantly increasing fibre capacity.

Before the emergence of WDM systems, the only solution for network operators to keep up with bandwidth demand was laying more fibre. Nevertheless, trenching and laying fibre is very disruptive and expensive. In the past 20 years, accelerating developments in multiplexing technologies have opened new opportunities to add capacity without necessarily having to lay more fiber.

While it increases the capacity of fibre networks considerably, WDM has also been recognised as a layer one transport technology in all tiers of the network, which is why it represents a great investment for operators in 2022.

400G ZR and ZR+

In 2021 we witnessed a revolution in coherent technology with the deployment of 400G connections. 400G is a promising new technology that allows for high-capacity connectivity and reliable bandwidth with low operational expenses and a smaller carbon footprint. As part of this revolution, QSFP-DD ZR and ZR+ compatible transceivers have been developed to support 400G connectivity.

In 2022, we are likely to see a growing investment in this new technology. According to the same report by LightCounting, the sales volume for the new transceivers will increase more than ten times in the next five years and exceed USD 2.000 million.

400G ZR and ZR+ support the QSFP-DD interface, which allows DWDM systems to be installed directly into network equipment. Operators that opt for a network infrastructure based on 400G QSFP-DD transceivers will save on both initial investment and the total cost of ownership (TCO) of WDM networks. More than 65 per cent of WDM network operators believe that the TCO of such designed networks will be at least 20 per cent lower compared to traditional WDM networks.


600G, 800G and beyond

Despite a significant investment in 400G technology, there is also a massive increase in the value of fifth-generation coherent technology. LightCounting’s report predicts that 600G and 800G technologies will grow almost three times in the coming five years.

According to Jonathan Homa, senior director of solutions marketing at Ribbon Communications, two 400G ZR+ modules can deliver better performance over longer distances and at a lower cost than 800G modules. Nevertheless, as the record shows, 800G will dominate the market in the years to come.

Although 800G modules are not yet commercially available, they will be able to transport 800 billion bits per second and increase fibre capacity or extend wavelengths across any path through remotely adjustable line rates. This new technology could be used in long-haul applications for over a thousand kilometres and submarine applications for more than 10,000 kilometres.

It is clear that the telecommunications industry is a rapidly evolving sector. Developments in data centre infrastructure, smart city planning and technological gadgets demand faster, more efficient networks. As a result, telecommunications equipment is constantly changing to keep up with new requirements. In 2022, we are likely to witness a surge in the popularity of technologies that optimise data transmission and extend wavelengths capacity, such as WDM systems, 400G modules and 600G and 800G technologies.

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