Raman optical amplification technology has been around for more than a decade, but OFC 2014 found vendors in the mood to talk about how they are noodling with Raman. More important, service providers appear to be noodling with it, too.
At OFC this week, Ciena Corp. (NYSE: CIEN) announced Smart Raman amplifiers with built-in optical time domain reflectometer software to automate pre-activation testing and turn up, improving on previous manual installation processes. Also, JDSU (Nasdaq: JDSU; Toronto: JDU) announced new Raman pump lasers with lower, more cost-efficent power consumption. (See Ciena Unveils WaveLogic Photonics and JDSU Preps Optical Components, Test Gear for OFC.)
Along with Ciena's Wavelogic Photonics and PinPoint fiber analytics capabilities, the vendor's Raman amplification recently helped Comcast achieve 1 Tbit/s performance over 1,000 km "That was over average fiber, not anything special, just what's already in the ground," says Mike Adams, vice president of product and technical marketing at Ciena.
However, if there is a master chef of Raman noodling, it might be Xtera Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: XCOM), which earned patents for the technology back in 2002. At OFC 2014, Raman was key to Xtera's demonstration of unrepeatered 100G over a distance of 500 km. The vendor also touted a trial late last year in which Verizon used the technology, and also is celebrating the 10-year anniversary of its first commercial deployment of its Wise Raman offering (See Xtera to Demo Unrepeatered 100G at OFC, Xtera Gets Raman Patents.)
Wise Raman? Smart Raman? If it's so brilliant, why has it taken so long to make it to center stage?
In reality, Raman technology has been a topic interest and debate in the optical sector for many years. As the industry has continually upped its performance and distance ambitions for both long-haul and metro optical transmission, Raman has been seen by some as a more powerful alternative to erbium-doped fiber amplifiers, although also as a compliment to EDFAs in so-called hybrid amplifiers. However, Raman amps were very expensive in the early going, and have been widely perceived as having operational challenges, such as being difficult to install. In any case, the early market excitement about Raman amps stalled during the first half of the last decade, along with the broader market for optical amplifiers and components. (See Raman Amps: Key to Optical Future and Report: Slow Ramp for Optical Amps.)
"Raman has traditionally had a bad name in the industry," Adams says. "It's much simpler now to use this capability, and because we can collect more information from the fiber, we can do more analytics. You go longer at 16 QAM, because now you know where you might have problems on the fiber."
— Dan O'Shea, Managing Editor, Light Reading
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