Huawei Strives for Optical Respect

LOS ANGELES -- OFC/NFOEC 2012 -- Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. , trying to build a reputation for cutting-edge optical research, is showing off a switch built from the metro-ring technology of optical burst switching (OBS).

Huawei calls it the Petabit (-per-second) Photonic Cross-Connect (PPXC). While it might become a product, it's really part of Huawei's strategy to become known for something more than cheap equipment, says Reg Wilcox, the company's vice president of network marketing.

OBS is a metro technology for dynamically provisioning subwavelength capacity. Huawei took that concept and built an 80x80 matrix that uses it. The PPXC puts electronic switches on either side of that matrix, forming a Clos fabric. (That is, a multistaged, non-blocking switch fabric.)

This could be the heart of a really big OTN switch, one that could use 25Gbit/s optics to carry a capacity in the petabit range. Because OBS is a packet technology, the PPXC could also be oriented to handle packet traffic, Wilcox says.

It's about five years away from being a real product, during which time it's possible the demand for a big OTN switch might or might not emerge. "If we're wrong, it's not that hard to orient the thing for packet," Wilcox says.

OBS itself is represented in the market by basically one company, Intune Networks , and the technology hasn't had a glorious history so far. (See Is Intune Off-Key?.)

Huawei's entry into the OBS market was subtle, taking the form of a demo that seemed randomly dropped into last year's OFC/NFOEC booth. Huawei doesn't have any big OBS successes to brag about, but the product is still alive. "We got considerable interest from one customer -- not from North America -- last year, and we've got followup meetings with that customer this week," Wilcox says.

Huawei very much wants to build an image as a technology innovator, and a key part of that strategy is to have a good presence at OFC/NFOEC -- not on the exhibition floor so much as in the technical presentations.

The company presented one OFC/NFOEC paper last year and is up to 15 this year, Wilcox says.

It also got one post-deadline paper accepted, which is a pretty big deal. OFC/NFOEC spotlights the best of optical networking research -- it's Lollapalooza for Ph.Ds -- and organizations like Bell Labs and NTT Group (NYSE: NTT) sometimes save their best, most eye-catching papers for last, hoping for a post-deadline slot.

Huawei's post-deadline paper involves a prototype 40Gbit/s passive optical network (PON) created with China Telecom Corp. Ltd. (NYSE: CHA) and the Beijing Research Institute. It's not an LTE iPad or anything, but for Huawei, it's a milestone.

Huawei's OFC/NFOEC booth highlighted other research dabblings including, interestingly enough, a 400Gbit/s demo very similar to what Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) and Ciena Corp. (NYSE: CIEN) had announced earlier. Like those two companies, Huawei used 16 QAM modulation to produce two 200Gbit/s wavelengths. These can fit together in a 100GHz spacing and can be packed closer together if needed.

(To read the same details, twice, see Ciena Pushes Ahead to 400G and AlcaLu Can Do 400G Too.)

AlcaLu and Ciena produced 400 Gbit/s with their own ASICs. Huawei's is an FPGA-based implementation, and Wilcox adds that it's "far from production."

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— Craig Matsumoto, Managing Editor, Light Reading

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