What can we look forward to next year in optical networking? With many new players entering the ecosystem, the debate looks likely to get hotter between technology lovers, people focusing on simplicity and operational aspects and proponents of machine intelligence. Several trends will greatly impact the way we build optical networks going forward.

Network disaggregation will prove a winning strategy

More and more operators of telecom and enterprise networks are turning their interest to optical network disaggregation, with most choosing the model of disaggregating the entire optical line system from terminals or optics. The key benefit is that network disaggregation decouples innovation cycles. Improvement on the terminal side is much faster compared to the photonic layer and so disaggregation enables network providers to take advantage of the latest innovation. This shift to open and disaggregated networking, however, comes at the cost of complexity with system integration, management and orchestration. This is a factor that needs to be carefully considered, especially by network operators who don’t have the required expertise and resources available in-house.

Edge ROADMs will become mainstream

This trend reflects the way in which metro optical line systems are designed and built to meet operational demands. Increasing automation in the metro, infrastructure expansions in readiness for 5G and the expectation that connectivity services can be delivered quickly all create the need for deployment of edge ROADMs that meet metro cost points. That’s why network operators need to carefully select ROADM technology for the metro. As opposed to core network deployments, metro prerequisites such as compactness, simplicity and low first-in cost need to be achieved. On top of that, flex-grid capability has now finally become mandatory for ROADMs in general to support high baud-rate signals.

High baud-rate signals will drive efficiency

With higher baud rates, also known as symbol rates, the latest iteration of optical technology improves the speed and reach of coherent systems. Moving to higher rates increases the amount of information a system can transmit, and since it requires the same number of optical components, significantly reduces the cost per bit. Unlike early implementations of coherent optical technology, the latest generation of high-speed optics can support a wide range of different baud rates and modulation formats. For network operators, there’s the potential to capitalize on optimizing cost, reach and spectral efficiency over a wide range of use cases.

Low-cost optical access will dominate

Considerable creativity and thought have been devoted to fiber-based access networks, but the economics are challenging because costs cannot be divided among a sufficient number of users. With G.Metro, technology has recently matured to a point that enables network operators to gain both massive economic improvements, as well as substantial improvements in performance, flexibility and operational simplicity. The emergence of low-cost 100Gbit/s technology will further accelerate high-speed optical access to provide the optimal set of last-mile connectivity in mobile network, fiber deep and business services applications.

Encryption will become a boardroom matter

Over the last few years, secure optical connectivity has become a key requirement, complementing the enterprise security landscape. The initial focus was on encrypted optical connectivity for data center interconnect applications in business continuity and disaster recovery. With network security becoming more and more critical, this trend has created a lucrative opportunity for network operators to bundle managed connectivity services with encryption, which has the potential to reduce churn and create a stronger customer relationship. Secure connectivity has evolved into a cornerstone of the connected world and a mandatory capability for optical network solutions.

2019 top 5 predictions

Each of these predictions will offer tremendous potential for change in the way networks are built and operated. And with that, comes a lot of opportunity for differentiation for all participants in the optical networking ecosystem.