OFC: A Third of a Mile of Next-Gen Optics


Matt Schmitt
Principal Architect

Apr 23, 2019

0.0000026 seconds.

For the more technically inclined, that’s 2.6 microseconds. Which is how long it would take light to travel a third of a mile through fiber optic cable. It was also the length of the show floor at OFC: The Optical Networking and Communications Conference and Exhibition, held in March in San Diego, California.

Of course, it took me considerably longer – 115,384,615 times longer, or about 5 minutes – to walk that same distance at the show. And that’s assuming I maintained a fast pace and avoided stopping for the entire distance – a feat that proved essentially impossible, given the amazing assortment of next-generation optical technology on display, as well as a large number of familiar faces around me!

CableLabs Represented

The show floor hosted 683 exhibitors – too many to take in over such a short time. Among them were many of the companies that have been involved in the CableLabs P2P Coherent Optics effort, helping to blaze the trail for the use of coherent optics technology in the cable access network, in turn enabling our 10G vision. In those booths, many were showcasing products that support 100G speeds based on our PHYv1.0 specification, as well as their roadmap and plans for devices supporting 200G speeds based on our PHYv2.0 specification. Roaming the show floor, checking out exhibited products or enjoying key sessions, I kept running into many of the direct participants in our efforts, despite the fact that 15,400 people were in attendance.

It didn’t seem that I could go very far without encountering someone from a significant CableLabs contingent or one of our members, reflecting the importance of next-generation optics to the cable industry, as well as CableLabs’ strong commitment to developing new optical technologies. Our Optical Center of Excellence has been at the forefront of developing innovative approaches for applying optical technology to cable networks, such as Full Duplex Coherent Optics.

CableLabs on Display

Although CableLabs wasn’t an official exhibitor, beyond having a contingent of people present, CableLabs and cable definitely had a presence at this year’s OFC. The importance of the cable industry was mentioned during a keynote speech; Curtis Knittle participated on a panel on “Action in the Access Network” as a part of the OIDA Executive Forum, and one of our interns presented a poster as part of a collaboration with CableLabs’ Bernardo Huberman and Lin Cheng.

Another presentation from our own Mu Xu also illustrated how CableLabs is pushing the boundaries of optical technology. This presentation – titled “Multi-Stage Machine Learning Enhanced DSP for DP-64QAM Coherent Optical Transmission” and co-authored by other CableLabs thought leaders including Junwen Zhang, Haipeng Zhang, Jing Wang, Lin Cheng, Zhensheng Jia, Alberto Campos, and Curtis Knittle – was particularly noteworthy because it brought together multiple areas of next-generation technology and research going on at CableLabs.

This was my first year attending OFC, and I feel like I barely scratched the surface of what was there. More than anything else, I came away impressed by the impact that the CableLabs team is making on the optical industry, one that will be critical for enabling our 10G future. I’m greatly looking forward to next year.