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Move Over, 200G: How & Why We're Ready for the Rise of 400G

Helen Xenos

We've grown to accept 100G, and even 200G, as the norm on the network these days. It's catered to our insatiable demand for video, enabled the rise of cloud, and ushered in a new era of on-demand content and OTT services the world over.

But we are a bandwidth-hungry species and our appetite is voracious, increasing with every year. No sooner has 200G become the norm that we need more speed and more capacity simply to keep up.

To wit: global video streaming hours grew more than 100% in 2017. Facebook now has 2 billion monthly active users, with its second billion coming from the addition of 746 million users in Asia and the rest of world. In addition, one in every five Facebook videos is now a live broadcast -- so users are moving from just being consumers of streaming content over the web to being producers.

This year we are able to access the 2018 Winter Olympics through live streaming in Virtual Reality. And cloud and content providers are spending billions of dollars a year -- with the larger ones spending tens of billions -- to build data centers to accommodate increasing connectivity demands.

While 200G has been able to meet our requirements so far, the above statistics and trend lines show that 400G cannot come soon enough and its ascent into the networking paradigm means that, thankfully, we might be ahead of the demand curve for a change.

Why now? Until very recently, technology challenges associated with 400G meant that the highest capacity link operators could deploy across a single optical wavelength was 200 Gbit/s. But advances in our ability to process more symbols per second, as well as an evolution in modulation schemes with more dense constellations (more bits per symbol), means the technology is finally ready for prime time. Live network trials and deployment plans are already underway. In fact, early indicators predict that the industry will ramp to 400 Gbit/s-capable solutions three times faster than they did for 100G.

The popularity of the new technology is its inherent programmability, and the fact that it changes the "unit of currency" for capacity that is deployed in networks today. 200G replaces 100G as the new standard for long haul applications, 300G can now be deployed for 1,000-km distances, and 400G for shorter reach, metro or DCI (data center interconnect) distances. Capacity can be adjusted based on the distance of the application: As Telstra announced earlier this year, this programmability aspect is becoming a critical element in "Networks for the Future," so operators can adjust bandwidth in real-time to optimize capacity for customer demand.

One example of a sector in need of these speed and capacity gains is the research and education community. These organizations rely on "Elephant Flows" (i.e. an extremely large and continuous flow of data) to enable revolutionary scientific projects, such as genome editing or the analysis of huge amounts of data from, say, the Large Hadron Collider. The UK's Jisc, which operates the busiest National Research and Education Network in Europe by volume of data, has already taken the step to upgrade its Janet Network to 400G in support of its vision for the UK to be at the forefront of scientific research.

Additionally, content providers such as Google, Apple or Facebook will stand to benefit immensely from the rise of 400G. Not only do these web-scale behemoths need to transmit everything they already have on their enormous servers, they also need to add more bandwidth-intensive content, such as 4K video, to their content catalogues as consumers increasingly expect premium quality content.

And, while deployments in other industries such as financial services, retail and healthcare are some way off, it's a sector that will eventually shift en masse. Once one institution makes the shift, they will all follow like dominos, lest they get left behind.

The new 400G era is not just on the horizon; it's here and it's ready for prime time. Its combination of higher-speed connectivity services, increased fiber capacity and fewer wavelengths to manage, make it an enticing proposition for the network providers, OTT service providers and web-scale giants of the world. And with our appetites for bandwidth and speed only increasing by the day, the advent of 400G has come just in the nick of time to give network providers the best chance of not only keeping up with but staying ahead of the insatiable bandwidth demands of its customers.

— By Helen Xenos, Senior Director, Portfolio Marketing, Ciena

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