Nokia plays catch-up in 400G Ethernet gear | Light Reading

Nokia plays catch-up in 400G Ethernet gear | Light Reading

Fresh off its February acquisition of optical engine maker Elenion Technologies, Nokia says it’s ready for what will likely be a big year in 400 Gigabit (400 GbE) Ethernet. Cloud service providers, data centers and metro networks are expected to invest in 400G this year to meet growing network demands.

The company announced its WaveFabric Elements portfolio, which comprises photonic chips, devices and subsystems, including the latest version of its Photonic Search Engine (PSE). The additions include assets from the company’s Elenion acquisition. According to Kyle Hollasch, director of product marketing in Nokia’s optical group, Elenion was a pioneer in silicon photonic technology, which allows data to be transferred among computer chips by using optical rays. Optical rays can carry a lot more data in less time. Hollasch said that Nokia has very high expectations for the technology. “Using silicon photonics allows us to manufacture this and be scalable and cost effective,” he said.

But Nokia is behind the curve compared with many of its competitors including Infinera, Ciena, Cisco and Juniper Networks. “They have been a little behind the ball,” said Scott Wilkinson, lead analyst at market research firm Cignal AI. “They haven’t had a competing product for a while and this allows them to get back into the market.”

Wilkinson added that other vendors such as Ciena and Acacia, which was acquired by Cisco last year for $2.6 billion, have had 400G products on the market for more than a year. In fact, AT&T last November announced that it activated its first 400G optical connection carrying live traffic between Dallas and Atlanta. AT&T’s optical connection used a 400G transponder based on Ciena’s WaveLogic optical technology.

“Ciena has deployments and they say they will have revenue this year,” Wilkinson said.

Vertical integration
Nokia’s Hollasch said that by integrating Elenion’s optical engines with the rest of Nokia’s product group, the company will be able to provide its customers with a much more vertically integrated 400G product and meet the growing demand. “By being vertically integrated we can be more competitive with costs,” Hollasch said, adding that this means the company will have to buy fewer key components from its suppliers.

However, that also means that some of Nokia’s previous suppliers are now potential customers. “We now sell optical engines to the market to vendors,” Hollasch said.

That vertical integration is also important because it means that Nokia can compete on a global basis along with competitors such as Huawei. “Nokia is one of the few that can compete around the world,” said Wilkinson of Cignal AI.

Nokia is also now using fifth generation coherent digital signal processors (DSPs), which are optimized for different optical network applications, form factors and platforms. Hollasch said that this means 400G can be used to send traffic short distances, like across the street, or long distances. “It can handle different applications at different price points by using a combination of technologies,” he added.

Data centers and hyperscalers are the near-term market for Nokia’s WaveFabric portfolio. However, Hollasch expects the market to grow next year and beyond as the technology is more widely adopted.

According to research and consulting firm Dell’Oro Group, adoption of 400G Ethernet connections will likely occur later this year and into 2021. Although 400G connections are more expensive than 100G connections, they offer a four-fold jump in maximum data transfer speeds over 100G as well as more data throughput. Dell’Oro forecast in a 2019 report that 400G shipments will surpass 15 million switch ports by 2023.

800G in the works
400G may be big right now but there is already some movement to boost speeds to 800G Ethernet. The Ethernet Technology Consortium, previously known as the 25 Gigabit Ethernet Consortium, has completed an 800G Ethernet specification that introduces a new media access control and physical coding sublayer. The group has 45 members including Arista, Broadcom, Cisco, Dell, Google, Mellanox and Microsoft.

Ciena, meanwhile, already has a commercially available 800G product, which it says is the first in the market. Earlier this month Deutsche Telekom Global Carrier said it was working with Ciena to deploy the first European 800G line to data centers in Vienna.

Nokia’s Hollasch said that he believes that 800G will primarily just be used for short distances. Wilkinson added that 800G will work well for short distances but also said that there will be a big market for it in subsea fiber optic communications.

Sue Marek, special to Light Reading. Follow her @suemarek.

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