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Moving To The Next Optical Network Standard
Setting up for the next increase in fiber optic bandwidth to 400 Gbps or 1 Tbps.

For residential and corporate users just getting comfortable with 100 Mbps broadband, the need for bandwidths in the Terabit per second range seem very far in the future. Not so for network operators. The discussion is getting lively right now as to whether the next optical networking standard speed will be 400 Gbps or 1 Tbps.

The Next Bandwidth Levels
What’s driving the need for new higher standards? It’s the inevitable march of technology from Kbps to Mbps to Gbps and soon to Tbps. The last lively discussion was whether to move up from 10 Gbps to 40 Gbps or go all the way to 100 Gbps. You’ll notice that the new proposed standards are 10x or one order of magnitude above those levels.

Relationship to Moore's Law
That makes sense because there is something of a “Moore’s Law” that applies to bandwidth as well as computer processing. Moore’s Law, formulated by Gordon Moore of Intel, proposed that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit would double every year. Despite the fact that no one knew exactly how to do this more than a increment or two into the future, technology advancements have come along on schedule to keep Moore’s law viable for decades. The latest announcement of 3D transistors looks to keep the processing improvements going for the foreseeable future.

Butter's and Nielsen's Laws
What about bandwidth? There is a prediction called Butter’s Law formulated by Gerald Butters of Bell Labs that says the amount of data coming from an optical fiber doubles every nine months. This is complemented by Nielsen’s Law, from consultant Jakob Nielsen, that says that bandwidth available to users increases 50% per year.

We'll Need Faster Speeds Soon
Based on this, getting standards in place for faster optical networks needs to proceed quickly. There’s little time to waste before we start talking about 10 and 100 Tbps networks and thinking ahead to Petabit per second networks.

Video Is What's Causing It
What on Earth is driving these requirements? Is it simply technology gone wild on its own development cycle or is there a real need for such bandwidths. If there isn’t now, there soon will be. It can be summed up in one word: Video.

Video Traffic Will Continue to Increase
Video traffic now dominates the Internet. It’s said the Netflix alone may be the largest single application. Netflix might have been first out of the chute when it comes to streaming video content on a massive scale, but it won’t be in that position alone for long. Most new televisions and set top boxes have Internet connectivity built-in. The same is true for gaming consoles, which also make nice video set top boxes.

Say Goodbye to OTA
But don’t most people get their video programming over the air, through cable or satellite dishes? They do for now because those are the mature technologies. The bit switch from analog to digital OTA broadcasting has had a unexpected side effect. Having to buy new sets and make tricky antenna adjustments to receive the digital broadcasts has caused some TV viewers to rethink their options. The latest trend is to forego over the air broadcasts in favor of Netflix and video downloads directly from the Internet.

Wireless BW Going to 3G and 4G
Far from being horrified, the FCC is considering auctioning off more of the TV spectrum to wireless broadband services. Smartphones and now tablet computers, particularly the iPad, are creating an almost insatiable demand for 3G and 4G bandwidth to support high definition video. There’s a proposal being floated to allow broadcasters to share frequencies taking advantage of the multiple program capability of each channel.

Only Fiber Will Do
Likewise, Ethernet over Copper and DOCSIS Cable are easily capable of 100 Mbps broadband but start to strain above that. Further technical advances may push the upper limit on copper delivery but it’s just a matter of time before we have fiber to every premises. Verizon is leading the way with its FiOS passive optical service to the home and most medium and large business that don’t have fiber yet are taking a hard look at the lower cost of Gigabit Ethernet, where available.

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