Now that 100G networking equipment is being deployed in both local and wide area networks, it is time to seriously consider what lies beyond.

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There are many research and development projects currently underway to answer the question of how high data rates will go, as well as what they will require of the hardware that makes them possible.


Last month, we discussed various LAN data rates that are most likely to be installed in the near term – specifically in the next five years. The bottom line was that most LANs would remain at data rates well below 100G for quite some time. However, there is a small group of companies, such as Internet data centers (IDCs), that will push their networks past 100G much sooner. These early adopters have several options available to them, which are shown in the following table.

Network speed

When the IEEE developed the 40G/100G standard, the premise was that 40G would become a server connection upgrade path from 10G. Now, with the maturity of 25G technologies, this does not seem to be happening. In fact, as mentioned in last month’s article, 25G server connections will be one of the fastest growing markets over the next few years. Highlighted in the table are the paths most likely to be taken.


The WAN has three distinct submarkets – access, metro, and long-haul – and each has its own data rate progression path. The following chart from Proximion shows how much faster metro traffic is growing as compared to long-haul traffic – at almost a two-to-one ratio by 2019.

Figure 1: Metro versus long-haul traffic forecast (Source: NGON NA 2015, Proximion)

Figure 1: Metro versus long-haul traffic forecast (Source: NGON NA 2015, Proximion)

This data was extrapolated from Cisco’s VNI Global IP Traffic Forecast. It makes sense when you think about the burgeoning use of the wide area network – most traffic stays within a geographical region, if not within a particular metropolitan area. Use cases include video-on-demand and Web searches – both of which are usually local data flows.

This highlights the fact that equipment manufacturers really should develop products for the metro network faster and more often than for the long-haul one. The issue is that historically they have done just the opposite – developing highly specialized, long-haul technologies and then cost-reducing them for the metro. This paradigm may not work going forward.

With traditional telecom service providers’ revenues finally growing again, so are their capital expenditures – both at about 5% annual growth rates. However, bandwidth demands are growing at anywhere from 30% to 70% depending on the region and which part of the network you examine. Current core traffic is increasing at a cumulative annual growth rate (CAGR) of about 45%, resulting in a core capacity requirement of 3.5Tb/s in 2016 and 12Tb/s by 2020. Drivers of this content include all the usual suspects – over-the-top (OTT) suppliers like Amazon, Google, and Netflix, video-on-demand (VoD), cloud-based applications, HD video, media-rich Web pages, and on-line gaming. Investments in the core infrastructure at a 5% annual growth rate may not be enough to keep up with the demand, but unfortunately, it may be all we get if telcos cannot determine how to garner more revenue from these bandwidth-hungry applications.

Network evolution may help. One industry expert describes 100G as “in its teenage years,” while 10G started to decline in 2015. In 2014, 100G accounted for more capacity shipped into the core network than 10G did according to Infonetics/IHS. It is interesting to note that in Infonetics’ research, it found 85% of this capacity was delivered by just five companies, which are all vertically integrated – they design their own DSPs and optics – and 35% of the equipment was shipped into China, mostly by Huawei. This has short-term implications for optical components suppliers.

The following diagram shows British Telecom’s (BT) view of the evolution of the core network. Starting in 2012, it was deploying 100G-coherent technology and is now in the process of installing both 200G and 400G as needed. This is representative of worldwide trends.

Figure 2: Evolution of the core (Source: NGON Europe 2015, BT)

Figure 2: Evolution of the core (Source: NGON Europe 2015, BT)

While 100G will support the LAN for several years to come, 200G and 400G proprietary solutions are already being deployed in the WAN. Standardization for these technologies needs to quickly come to fruition in order to enable adoption for the market at large. Both the IEEE and the ITU are currently working on standards solutions.

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Lisa Huff