Fibre speeds boost thanks to new Bell Labs chipset

Alan Burkitt-Gray
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Nokia says new optical chipset boosts fibre capacity to 600Gbps per wavelength

Nokia is claiming that it will be able to push fibre speeds up to 600Gbps with the release of a new optical chipset that gets close to the limits of physics.

The company will be releasing the devices for field trials in the second half of this year – mainly to large content providers and to subsea and national backbone carriers.

“It will be generally available in the first quarter of 2019,” said Kyle Hollasch, the company’s director of product marketing for optical networks.

The development – which comes from Bell Labs, the research institute Nokia acquired when it bought Alcatel-Lucent in 2016 – will be able to boost the capacity of fibre from 100km metro networks to 10,000-15,000km subsea links, said Hollasch.

“The jump in capacity we just made was 25%,” he added. “There aren’t going to be any more 25% jumps left. This chip will carry 600Gbps per wavelength.”

Future increases will be no more than 10%, he said. A new algorithm developed at Bell Labs for the new chip “pushes spectral efficiency very close to the Shannon limit”. Bell Labs mathematician Claude Shannon published in 1948 a theory of how much information can be crammed into digital encoding – a theory that, 70 years later, still governs the digital world.

The chipset uses a technique called probabilistic constellation shaping (PCS) that was pioneered at Bell Labs to push fibre performance close to theoretical limits.

Nokia is calling the new chipset Photonic Service Engine 3 (PSE-3) and says it will help scale networks for video, cloud and 5G growth. It will be available on the market from the first quarter of 2019.

“There will be a PSE-4 and PSE-5,” said Hollasch, devices that will give some improvement. “But the most obvious way to increase capacity is more spectrum on the fibre. And in a fibre you own the entire spectrum.”

Nokia is already talking to carriers and others about trials. “We have volunteers but I can’t say who they are. Webscale companies rarely if ever share their names.”