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Industry Insights

Connecting with OFC 2017

Wednesday, April 5, 2017 | by Rudy Montgelas

What's OFC?

The OFC (Optical Fiber Communications) Conference is the largest fiber optics and optical communications conference in the world that draws many of the top technical optical scientists, companies and experts in the field of optics from around the world. This year I was, again, fortunate enough to have the opportunity to attend the conference out in Los Angeles from March 20th to the 24th.

To give you an idea of the size of the conference, the LA Convention Center was consumed by over 14,500 attendees presenting more than 1,100 peer reviewed technical papers and presentations. And, in addition to the technical presentations, the conference center trade show area had 663 companies exhibiting booths that presented their latest developments and products for optical fiber communications, networking, laser and fiber based gadgetry.


What was the "buzz" at OFC 2017?

With so much to see and absorb at the conference, it is difficult to convey a picture of everything the show had to offer. Some of the technology is listed below, and has also been described in some CTDs:


Fiber Transceivers1
100Gbps, 400Gbps, 1Tb/s

Silicon Photonics2
On-board optics (OBO)
Optical integrated circuits

New types of fiber connectors3
Non-physical contact MPO


Industrial, aerospace and military fiber connectors


New types of optical fibers
Hollow core fibers4
Photonic crystal fibers (PCF)4
Multi-core fibers (MCFs)
Few-mode fiber (FMFs)
Plastic optical fibers (POF)5
Optical amplifying fibers

Optical light sources and detectors
Vertical cavity surface emitting lasers
Avalanche photodiode detectors
Quantum dot lasers6
Quantum key decryption/encryption (QKD)7

Data center fiber connectivity
Storage area networks
Co-location fiber solutions


Space division multiplexing (SDM)


Software defined optical networking8


Wavelength division multiplexing9
OM5 fibers solutions10
Remote optical add/drop multiplexers

Fiber splicing technology

Optical materials and processing

One could go on and on, and the list keeps growing. Needless to say, OFC is an optical geek’s dream. However, every year, at OFC, there appears to be some key technical focus and themes that stand out as the latest industry trends and opportunities for the field of optical communications technology. This year’s OFC 2017 was no exception, as software defined networking (SDN) and optical transceivers appeared to be a few at the top of the list.

More and more bandwidth please

Facebook reported that they are employing duplex singlemode fiber connectivity in all of their data centers moving forward. Also, all their optics should be QSFP compatible. Their systems are currently at 100G, but they are planning to move to 400G in 2020 with QSFP-DD (Double Density, supports 8 high speed electrical interfaces connected to the host) transceivers. Other large data center (DC) companies, such as Mircrosoft, are also moving to singlemode fiber as well. Facebook has also sought to reduce their physical plant maintenance by increasing their operating specs to 15C to 55C for their optical transceiver modules.

One of the OFC 2017 keynote plenary speakers, Urs Holzle VP at Google, said that he has seen a 50X increase in bandwidth requirements over the last 6 years. He says we are going to need at least a 10X increase in system bandwidth over the next few years to handle the data global network traffic moving forward. He indicated that Google does not use commercially available system software control planes in their network; they have developed their own IP, overlay and optical planes, but they are definitely embracing software defined networking solutions.

Development of optical chips and silicon photonic devices (SiP) is being provided by companies with “foundry” and simulation capability, where custom built optoelectronic devices can be designed, tested, verified and fabricated for end-user customers products. These SiPs can have such applications like integrated lasers, optical amplifiers and modulators, all fabricated on an integrated chip. The second OFC 2017 plenary speaker, Meint K. Smit, indicated that “The integration of electronics and photonics is the key to SiP technology for the future”.


Transceivers, transceivers and more transceivers

The number of manufacturers, on the trade show floor, presenting their latest solutions for applications of 100 up to 400 GB/s, into terahertz speeds, was overwhelming. QSFP-DD appears to be gaining momentum as the next 400G transceiver solution. Equipment manufacturers and DC architects seem to be skipping 40G and going directly to 100G and 400G solutions.

Finisar displayed the SWDM4 40G transceiver they have on the market now however, they plan to release 100G alpha version transceiver at the end of 2017. The QSFP-DD footprint is plug port compatible with the QSFP-28. It’s achieved by keying the housing so that it inserts part of the way into the contacts inside the mounting cage, as well as through the QSFP-DD’s split electrical contacts.

The new 8x50G 400G OSFP (Octal Small Form Factor) transceivers were being displayed for 32-ports per 1RU. OSFP MSA has an objective of 800G.

The Ethernet Alliance (EA) booth had an actual 8x50G PAM4 over SMF 400G connection demonstrating interoperability of fiber links running to four other EA alliance members’ booths and equipment. All four links were running to various switches, NICs and servers over duplex singlemode fiber cable zip-cord cables back to the EA booth equipment.

It’s happening fast, as new global companies are providing higher speed transceivers to meet the needs of bandwidth hungry IoT, edge computing and “big data” applications.

Software defined networking (SDN) and optical switching

Global undersea manufacturer, Nokia (Alcatel), showed samples of the undersea fiber optic cables they manufacture and described their cable deployment capabilities including fleet of deployment ships.

Because these links, along with the mega data center fiber networks, are becoming more interconnected and complex, it is apparent that software based optical switching, analysis and control systems to monitor and remotely reconfigure or provision for future fiber networks, is gaining significant interest for reliable communication links and faster customer service. Different technologies for O-E-O (optical to electrical and back to optical) and O-O-O (direct optical) switching are being employed for layer one using control with a software orchestration system

By adding parallel optical connections, with additional WDM channels, more and more bandwidth is achieved, but also with the addition of more and more network complexity especially over multiple hops. SDN provides a way to effectively analyze, control and manage the physical layer and to automatically adjust traffic over the network where and when it’s needed. It also provides an automated way to track, document and report changes to the network on a real time basis.

Optical fiber developments

Plastic Optical Fibers (POF) were presented by German, Japanese and US manufacturers claimed to be cost effective for short distance optical links from 1G to 10G, such as top of rack (ToR) connections or video codec connections. POF is trying to compete with shielded coax cables for short distance links. 

Chromis Fiber Optics gave a POF presentation indicating that they can produce low cost multi-fiber POF cables. They make an HDMI/HDMI POF fiber cable now using their multiple core POF cables and connectors. POF cable and connector technology could be a good potential for the development and manufacture of future low cost AV cables. Graded-index per-fluorinated POF is in development that offers even lower losses than PMMA, but also has higher bandwidths than the step-index fibers used for audio and AV. With the use of longer wavelength VCSELS at 1300nm, an experiment has been reported so far of 40G over 100 meters of a single pre-fluorinated POF from Japan.

Photonic crystal fibers (PCF) with air waveguides and also PCFs with cores of fused silica surrounded by air core “band gap” claddings are being developed for new types of fiber applications.

Multi-core fibers (MCF), and a new process to make them, are also in development. MCFs offer the ability for Space Division Multiplexing (SDM) over a single fiber strand which is drawn with a preform made from “canes” of many internal fiber core rods and silica tubes. Some acceptable crosstalk results have been shown for a 7-core single mode MCF arranged of seven single mode cores in the central area of the fiber.

Advancements in fiber preform manufacturing and materials are being made for both plastic and silica optical fibers, such as the slurry method for making rare earth doped fibers for laser amplifiers (EDFAs). 

Stay tuned for future CTDs as we look at this and other new communication infrastructure technologies.

References and further reading:

Connecting the Dots “Transceivers” R. Montgelas 4-13-2016
2 Connecting the Dots “What is Silicon Photonics” R. Montgelas 3-30-2016
3 Connecting the Dots “Fiber Connections” R. Montgelas 2-22-2017
4 Connecting the Dots ”Connecting the DOTS with photonic crystal fibers” R. Montgelas 7-3-2016
5 Connecting the Dots ”Connecting Plastic Optical Fibers” R. Montgelas 2-1-2017
6 Connecting the Dots ” Connecting the Quantum Dots” R. Montgelas 6-8-2016
Connecting the Dots ”Connecting quantum computing and encryption” R. Montgelas 1-18-2017
Connecting the Dots ”Fiber’s Future: Dynamic and Software Managed” Y. Morvan 3-8-17
Connecting the Dots ” SWDM and WMMF’s True Colors” R. Montgelas 5-11-2016
10 Connecting the Dots ” Connecting WBMMF'” R. Harris 12-16-16