Optical Networks Come of Age

Daniel Kilper, Keren Bergman, Vincent W.S. Chan, Inder Monga, George Porter and Kristin Rauschenbach

Big data and insatiable consumer demand for broadband are driving a new generation of intelligent, programmable, energy-efficient networks—powered by optical switching—to support Internet services reaching terabit-per-second speeds.



The story of fiber optic transmission capacity growth is well known: seven orders of magnitude in a short two decades. The telecom bubble of the late 1990s accelerated continent-scale wavelength division multiplexing (WDM) technology, which has steadily expanded from the Internet backbone into metropolitan regions. Fiber optic links are now making their way onto the edges of the network, into the home and the largest data centers, as photonic devices replace traditional electrical links. The smartphone and mobile-data explosion forced carriers to rapidly upgrade their cellular base-station Internet connections over to fiber optics as well.

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