What a difference a year makes. The pace of Ethernet innovation ramped significantly since last year’s Optical Fiber Communications Conference (OFC). Just 12 months ago, there was plenty of exploration happening, but limited demonstrations showed what was possible. 2023 brought a show floor brimming with market-ready products.
400G and 800G products were everywhere. Multiple companies showed off next-gen 800G-capable switches and 800G interconnects such as optical transceivers, and active and passive cables. Several vendors showed 51.2 Tbps chipsets.
How did the industry come so far, so fast?
For starters, overwhelming commitment to serve the seemingly insatiable demands of AI/ML. Also, streaming workloads for high bandwidth and performance continue to be top-of-mind. In a presentation, Meta ratcheted up 2025 expectations for network optics and speeds, giving the industry a new set of technical challenges for the next wave of capabilities.
As vendors demonstrate that components operate seamlessly with an expanding ecosystem and meet required reliability, performance, and scalability, a focus on multivendor interoperability testing is also helping to ensure overall readiness.
To that end, new this year was OFC’s live high-speed optical network, OFCnet, which provided all participants booth-to-booth fiber connectivity for on-site optical demonstrations and collaborations.
The buzz: ZR and ZR+ optics, 1.6 Tbps demos, and more
Shipments of 400G ports are still going strong. In a Dell’Oro Group blog about OFC 2023, Sameh Boujelbene noted, “While 800 Gbps optics started shipping in 2022, more suppliers are currently sampling, and the volume production is expected to ramp up by the end of this year, as indicated in the chart below from our 5-year Data Center Forecast report January 2023 edition.”
There was still plenty of discussion about the pros and cons of 800G form factors—OSFP or QSFP-DD—but it’s not clear yet which will prevail.
400G ZR coherent pluggable optics and longer range ZR+ optics were hot topics for both service providers and hyperscalers. Service providers are excited about the possibilities and hyperscalers are looking to ZR+ for data center interconnect applications and terrestrial and submarine networks.
Even though IEEE has not yet published a standard, some leaders showed proof-of-concept demos of 1.6 Tbps solutions. These aren’t ready for prime time, but at the pace the industry is going, expect to see progress on display by next year.
Production: Beyond optics with 800G switch connections and DACs
The transition from slideware and demos to production was evident with working products highlighted throughout the show.
That progress was on full display in our interconnect demo, which expanded from two optical transceiver partners at OFC 2022 to nine partners this year, covering optical transceivers as well as active and passive copper DACs to support smaller installations. Spirent displayed industry-first 800G and 400G test platforms designed to accelerate the development of reliable, high-performing 800G/400G systems, for any interconnect strategy.
Over at the Ethernet Alliance booth, switches from Arista and Cisco featured actual 800G ports (in 2x400G or 8x100G modes), and Spirent showcased its 800G test equipment by assessing interoperability of vendor products against these real switches.
Battlegrounds: It’s VHS versus Betamax but for optical
Standards don’t move as fast as the industry would like. As with 25G and 400G, the Ethernet Technology Consortium has developed 800G standards first. These are then adopted by the industry, which creates an installed base. The IEEE then generally adopts the standard. By early next year, we expect IEEE to ratify the 800G standards. In the current transition phase, eyes are on what the IEEE will do. Customers came to our booth to test implementations, understand standards developments, and learn what our plan is for testing them.
In short, Spirent is ready for whatever the IEEE 800G standard becomes.
Another developing dynamic is brewing between OSFP and QSFP-DD pluggable connectors. Last year it seemed QSFP-DD was winning, but it isn’t easy to implement 800G in the QSFP form factor because of limited space for logic and electronics. This year, OSFP picked up the pace. Spirent showed it is ready for both, showing off OSFP and QSFP-DD test solutions in the Ethernet Alliance booth.
There were also POCs of 1.6 Tpbs solutions based on the new OSFP-XD (extra density) MSA. However, OSFP-XD isn’t backward compatible with OSFP and only time will tell if there are any takers.
Testing 800G options to ensure networks work
Change and innovation in the optical industry are accelerating and real 800G solutions from multiple vendors are being deployed at a rapid pace. AI/ML is causing bandwidth and scale to skyrocket at a few hyperscalers.
Comprehensive testing has become imperative. 800G and next-gen network equipment need to be tested and validated for interoperability and performance under real-world conditions.
Spirent testing methodologies and solutions are ready to support customers in the entire ecosystem, regardless of the direction they want to go. Whether it’s 800G OSFP, QSFP-DD, or other optical transceivers or DACs, ZR, or ZR+ optics, Spirent solutions help to validate that the products will work in the real world.
Spirent A1 400G QSFP-DD and B2 800G Native OSFP and QSFP-DD Test Platforms were recognized by the 2023 Lightwave Innovation Reviews as being among the most innovative products impacting the optical communications community. They are ready to address the need for delivering high-performing, reliable, and interoperable 400G and 800G infrastructures.
Learn more about Spirent’s OFC 2023 contributions:
Press release: Spirent OFC 2023 Showcase Highlights Latest Advances in Ethernet Validation
Video: High-Speed Ethernet Validation for Next-Generation Networking
Video: Ethernet Alliance & Spirent Interoperability Demo at OFC 2023