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Nokia & Facebook Push Undersea Fiber to 32 Tbit/s

Craig Matsumoto

LOS ANGELES -- OFC 2017 -- Nokia and Facebook have announced a test where they've jammed 32 Tbit/s down one undersea cable, more than double the bandwidth normally achieved today.

The technology, involving a Bell Labs invention called probabilistic constellation shaping (PCS), wouldn't be commercialized for at least three years, estimates Kyle Hollasch, director of product marketing for optical at Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK)

Rather, the announcement is a classic OFC post-deadline paper -- a late research result submitted in hopes of getting a Thursday evening presenting slot. Post-deadline papers often feature what are called hero experiments -- eye-popping numbers related to the next generation of speed, size, power or bandwidth.

Nokia and Facebook 's result "shows these cables have a lot of running room," Hollasch says.

Web-scale operators such as Facebook, Google, and Amazon Web Services (AWS) are running their own undersea networks. They'd been participating in consortia -- pooling resources with other companies to invest in undersea fiber -- but are now taking sole ownership of some fiber spans or even laying their own cables under the sea.

You might think they'd be better off leasing capacity, but that model doesn't work for them, said Vijay Visirikala, a network architect at Google, during yesterday's OIDA Executive Forum. Capacity isn't always available in places where Google needs it. And the pricing of leased capacity doesn't fit Google's traffic patterns, which involve unpredictable bursts of demand.

The Nokia experiment used a 5,500km fiber pair that Facebook had purchased. According to Hollasch, the project started when Stephen Grubb, Facebook's global optical network architect, was impressed by Nokia's 1Tbit/s terrestrial experiment at ECOC last fall. (See Nokia, DT Break Terabit Barrier.)

"He said, 'I have a 5,500km cable under the ocean -- how'd you like to test on that?" Hollasch says. "You can imagine how a bunch of engineers reacted to that. This was Christmas and their birthday all at once."

Typical undersea fiber capacity using 100Gbit/s wavelengths is 13 Tbit/s, Hollasch says. The Nokia team pushed that to 17 Tbit/s using the Photonic Service Engine 2 (PSE-2) chip (the star of the ECOC paper) and got up to 32 Tbit/s by applying PCS.

PCS was invented in the early 2000s but was shelved after the dotcom bust. It's a modulation method that tunes the optical signal based on the length of the fiber. Hollasch likens it to a bicycle drive train, where different gears allow better performance under different conditions -- only PCS provides a theoretically infinite number of gears.

"It lets you eke out every bit of performance," he says.

For those who want to geek out on details: PCS uses 64-QAM modulation -- that is, a signal using 64 permutations of phase and amplitude. (This is what the PSE-2 chip does.) Normal QAM assigns an equal probability to all 64 points; PCS favors the points with lower amplitude. If you graph what's happening in 3D, you'd see a small hill -- a 3-D Gaussian curve, essentially. Nokia is showing off that graph at OFC, and Hollasch assures us it looks really cool.

— Craig Matsumoto, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

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User Rank: Light Beer
3/28/2017 | 3:08:11 AM
Re: Clarification
Thanks Alison. I would truly like to know about any such incident because I am a consultant in the submarine fiber optic industry. Best regards, Julian Rawle
User Rank: Light Sabre
3/27/2017 | 2:55:18 PM
Re: Environment
The megatons of garbage being floated out into open waters probably has a bigger impact on marine life than undersea cables. And logically, more cables are better for overall reliabililty and redundancy.
User Rank: Lightning
3/27/2017 | 1:57:21 PM
Re: Clarification
Yes, 32 Tb/s per fiber pair.



alison diana
alison diana,
User Rank: Moderator
3/27/2017 | 12:54:20 PM
Re: Clarification
My husband was a commercial fisherman and he told me the story. Not sure if he saw it firsthand or whether it was from a friend. Let me find out, @Julian.
User Rank: Light Beer
3/25/2017 | 8:21:42 AM
Could Craig just clarify, are they talking about 32 Tbit/s per fiber pair?

Also, it would be great if Alison could provide a source for the whale story.


Julian Rawle


Julian Rawle Consulting
alison diana
alison diana,
User Rank: Moderator
3/23/2017 | 3:16:09 PM
I love the idea of pushing more speed and data through fewer undersea cables. Living on the Space Coast of Florida, I've read quite a bit about the impact loosened cables can have on sea life (a whale recently was tangled up in submarine cables). Not only does wildlife suffer, but of course communications are damaged too. Fewer cables in better, more secure setups, help us all.
User Rank: Light Sabre
3/21/2017 | 3:03:49 PM
I think it would be cool for these companies to show the capabilities these undersea cables provide for users. 

A lot of people probably don't realize what it takes to move information across apps and databases in these cloud networks. I know it takes a lot more than people think!
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