What’s on the submarine network technology horizon in 2020?

There are several key technologies that are the focus of submarine network innovation and will garner a great deal of time, money, resources, and attention in 2020. These technologies will once again allow submarine cable operators to modernize their submerged assets and not only maintain pace with voracious and ongoing growth in bandwidth demand but provide critical competitive differentiation as well. I cover below these key technology innovation areas that I believe will dominate the discussion seascape throughout 2020. 

Spatial Division Multiplexing (SDM) Cables

With voracious and ongoing bandwidth growth experienced for many years now, coupled with expanding rollout of 5G services that significantly increase access speeds to content hosted in data centers, cable operators are constantly seeking new ways to increase available bandwidth between continental landmasses for Data Center Interconnection (DCI) purposes – satellite networks need not apply!

Although Submarine Line Terminating Equipment (SLTE) has been constantly innovative upon at a frenetic pace for the past decade, the wet plants they connect to have experienced comparatively little innovation – until now. Wet plants leveraging SDM technology offer more fiber pairs than traditional submarine cables, and although SDM cables support less capacity per fiber pair, they have a much higher overall capacity due to far more pairs (12 and higher), which is further enhanced with power-optimized repeater (misnomer for subsea optical amplifier) designs.

As an industry proof point, the first SDM-based submarine cable deployed is the transatlantic Dunant cable, which supports up to 250Tb/s of overall capacity over an aggregate of 12 fiber pairs, which is many more than the traditional 6 to 8 fiber pairs offered on recent submarine cable deployments.

Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), and Deep Learning (DL)

AI, ML, and DL are all interrelated and making their way into all parts of the global network infrastructure, and submarine networks won’t be the exception. These software-based technologies were borne in the same data centers interconnected by submarine cables, which together now carrying over 50% of global submarine traffic between data centers dispersed around our planet. The obvious question is, why not use these technologies on the same DCI networks that help to enable them in the first place? Some network operators have answered this question by implementing these technologies to optimize and monetize their expansive interconnected network assets, overland and undersea, for competitive advantage.

Streaming Telemetry

The old adage of “garbage in, garbage out” applies to the above-mentioned AI/ML/DL technologies, so the network performance data used must be accurate, and ongoing. This is achieved with real-time streaming telemetry from network assets accessed via open Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). Who better to tell you how the network is doing on an ongoing basis than the network itself?

Makes sense, but to do so, you need access to open software interfaces to push/pull real-time performance data, which is fed into AI/ML/DL implementations. However, having access to open APIs is not enough. The network itself, on the other side of the API, must inherently support the creation and measurement of accurate data made available via streaming telemetry over APIs.

Together, this allows operators to ensure their networks are operating at an optimal manner on an ongoing basis, and to ensure that the Service Level Agreement (SLAs) performance that customers purchase, and expect, is always delivered, reliably and securely.

Open Submarine Cables

Everyone desires greater choice, but with it also comes greater responsibility. Building a best-in-breed submarine network means choosing interconnected technologies from different vendors, who are best at what they do, since no one vendor is the best at everything required for a global end-to-end network. How does an operator know what to look for so as to pick-and-choose the best wet plants and coherent modems for their Open Cable design and associated business requirements? For starters, check out our Open Cable Handbook that delves into exactly this topic, and in great detail. The handbook provides insights into what to look for and how to select the best SLTE and associated wet plat to build best-in-breed networks.

Open Submarine Networks

Building the best submarine cable is achieved by selecting the best wet plant and book-ended modems when and where required… but what about the rest of the network? Open, standards-based, software APIs allow for selecting and interconnecting the rest of the network components allowing operators to implement the best software technologies as well, related to management, predictive analytics, closed-loop automation, real-time inventory, and so on. Openness is now being considered across the entire network.

Coherent Optical Transmission Modems

SLTE is an area of rapid technology innovation, and rightfully so, because it directly addresses ongoing bandwidth growth. New coherent modem transmission, intelligent power management, and spectrum sharing technologies are being introduced at a frenetic pace. Shannon Limit looms large, but ways to side-step this physical limit are being offered, such as SDM wet plants and its many more available fiber pairs.

Packet Networking Evolution

The interconnection of terrestrial and submarine network segments, that is the Internet, is rapidly coalescing around an IP/Ethernet-centric network, from access to data centers, and everything in between, including submarine networks. Should and will packet switching and aggregation be integrated into SLTE, which is increasingly located directly within a data center? The (often heated) discussions in the submarine network industry is focused on how dispersed data centers and submarine networks can best interact to improve how future networks are designed, deployed, managed, and maintained. Given most new submarine cables being deployed, and overall traffic being turned up, are related to submarine DCI of IP/Ethernet-based intra-data center networks, this topic will only increase in importance in 2020, as it should.

Want to know more? Talk to us at PTC 2020!

Pacific Telecommunications Council (PTC) 2020

It’s already time for another PTC event to be held from January 19 to 22 in Honolulu, where Ciena will be actively participating in numerous event activities, including those summarized below.

Sunday, January 19 @ 08:30 to 10:45 @ MPCC, Coral 1 & 2

Submarine Cable Workshop 1: New Cables, Drivers, and Trends
Brian Lavallée, Senior Director, Solutions Marketing, Presenter
Ed McCormack, Senior International Advisor, Panelist

Monday, January 20 @ 15:30 to 16.45 @ MPCC, South Pacific 1

Submarine Cable Topical Session: Real Issues!
Brian Lavallée, Sr. Director, Solutions Marketing

If you’d like to discuss the above-mentioned topics, or anything else, please meet with us at PTC 2020 for an engaging discussion on the future of submarine networks. See you there. Aloha!

Man talking with GeoMesh Extreme and globe icon on a white board behind him