Service providers invest billions of dollars in their access networks. Ideally, the deployed technology meets consumer demand for many years, allowing service providers to avoid costly upgrades before fully recovering their investments. In addition to technology longevity, service providers also like to see technology evolution, a next generation, to borrow an overused technology term, to ensure future consumer demands can be met by staying within the same technology family. Nowhere is the next generation moniker more prevalent than in the development of passive optical networking (PON) standards.
Both the ITU-T and IEEE are creating next generation PON standards. The ITU has approved two documents from their G.989 series defining Next Generation PON 2 (NG-PON2), and a third document is currently undergoing final comments. The NG-PON2 architecture settled on a time and wavelength division multiplexing (TWDM) method which stacks four wavelengths in a coordinated manner onto a single fiber, with each wavelength delivering 10 Gb/s. Total NG-PON2 TWDM-PON capacity is therefore 40 Gb/s. Since the ONU only receives one wavelength, the bit rate received by a single ONU is capped at 10 Gb/s. In such a solution, the dynamic bandwidth allocation (DBA) would likely be independent for each wavelength. Multiple vendors have reported demonstrating the TWDM-PON solution. A four-wavelength TWDM-PON is illustrated in the figure below.
Is a 100 Gb/s Solution on the Horizon?
The IEEE 802.3 Working Group has recently formed a Study Group to develop objectives for the next generation of Ethernet Passive Optical Networking (NG-EPON). Several key technology decisions await the NG-EPON Study Group: (1) number of wavelengths, (2) bit rate per wavelength, (3) transceiver tunability, and (4) channel bonding. Faced with the same consumer demands and industry competition as other access network technologies, the NG-EPON Study Group could relatively easily define a four-wavelength, 10 Gb/s-per-wavelength PON to put it on par with NG-PON2, shown above. However, alternative solutions are being investigated by NG-EPON participants that would take PON technology multiple steps beyond, and presumably allow consumer demand to be met for many years into the future. For example, using advanced modulation techniques to provide 25 Gb/s per wavelength, combined with four multiplexed wavelengths on a single fiber, could yield the first 100 Gb/s PON solution. By incorporating channel bonding, a concept popularized by CableLabs and the cable industry in the DOCSIS® 3.0 specifications, an NG-EPON ONU would be capable of receiving one or more wavelengths, potentially receiving 50 Gb/s or more. In a channel-bonded solution the DBA will closely coordinate upstream transmissions on one or more wavelengths simultaneously. Are the optical transceivers tunable? That is another of the many important technology decisions yet to be made. A channel-bonded, time-wavelength division multiplexed PON is shown in the diagram below.
With a keen eye on vendor implementation schedules and interoperability, the increased capacity of NG-EPON ONUs and OLTs could be staged according to a timeline that aligns with consumer demand and service provider requirements, alleviating the need to develop yet another next generation standard (next-next generation?).
These technology decisions will begin to take shape within the NG-EPON Study Group (and subsequent Task Force) starting at the September 2015 802.3 Interim meeting. Anyone with the desire to contribute is welcome to attend. Perhaps the ITU-T will also investigate these same approaches for NG-PON2, ultimately resulting in another step toward a converged optical access solution (See the OnePON blog regarding a converged optical access initiative).
In his role as Vice President Wired Technologies at CableLabs, Curtis Knittle leads the activities which focus on cable operator integration of optical technologies in access networks. Curtis is also Chair of the 100G-EPON (IEEE 802.3ca) Task Force.