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Followers: 100 years of optical fiber communication

2020-06-19 16:41:46 Read

The speed of light in a vacuum is the maximum speed of movement of objects in nature found so far.

Before recognizing this truth, the story about chasing light has been etched into the myths of the East and the West. We preach the story of Kuafu's chasing the sun, fantasy Apollo driving the sun god car, calculating the speed of light every second. Our chase for light is chasing for extreme speed. This chase is like a competition between man and nature.

It's just that when our civilization develops to a certain height, this kind of competition no longer depends on our feet to run. Instead, let the information as a substitute, flow through all corners of the world, breaking the barriers of speed. Although it is difficult for us to surpass the speed of light in the physical world, we can be very close to light in the digital world.

The history of the development of optical fiber communication that we want to discuss today is a small highlight moment of human beings in this long race.

The beginning of chasing light: When Bell heard the light

For Chinese people, the word "optical fiber communication" seems to be a noun with a "millennium taste". In 2000, home broadband gradually became popular, and fiber optic access became a trend, and the general public began to understand this technology.

In fact, since the nineteenth century, people have discovered that the speed king in nature, light, can become a high-speed propagation medium through material conduction. Many scientists and engineers have tried to use this medium. The father of the phone, Bell, once invented a technology called "optical phone". A very thin silver-plated mica lens is placed in the sun. When the sound produces vibration, the reflected solar beam will also change. By converting this optical signal into an electrical signal, the blurred vocals can be restored. Bell described that he heard "light laughter, singing and coughing."



However, due to engineering capacity limitations, fiber optic transmission has been plagued by losses. Bell's optical phone can only talk within 200 meters, and the optical fiber that appeared later can only be used for medical endoscopes. Therefore, people at that time were only regarded as one of the scientific and technological achievements that burst out in the era of the Industrial Revolution.

The wormhole of fiber optic communication from the laboratory to the industry appeared in the 1960s. At that time, the engineer and later Nobel Prize winner Gao Kun explained with a paper that the loss of fiber propagation was mainly attributed to the low clarity of the material. If high-purity materials are used, there is still 10% of energy remaining when the beam travels at least 500 meters.


(Gao Kun)

Although Gao Kun's point of view also stays at the theoretical level, he mathematically proved that optical fiber can be used for communication. Soon, with the cooperation of the engineering level, Corning, Bell and other companies in the United States have begun to make breakthroughs in optical fiber engineering. In the 1970s, my country's Wuhan University of Posts and Telecommunications also began to study fiber optic communications.

This runway, chased with light, was paved.

The "optical fiber revolution" and the Chinese chasers behind it

Although China has started research on optical fiber communications since the 1970s, in the game of catching up with the light, we really showed a "presence" in the 1990s.

If around the 1970s, people’s demand for communication is still swaying about whether video phones can be popularized, then with the advent of personal computers, the Internet has immediately become a clearer direction for the communication industry-making more devices more convenient Connect to the Internet and transmit information faster and better through this network.


At the end of the 1980s, the International Telecommunication Union put forward the synchronous digital series of time division multiplex transmission system (also known as SDH). This kind of optical transmission network suitable for multipoint transmission, with the increasing number of equipment at that time The communication requirements brought about are highly compatible. Optical fiber communication has ushered in the first industry boom. In 1988, China, which had completed a certain amount of scientific research and realized the importance of optical fiber communication, began the construction of a "eight horizontal and eight vertical" large-capacity optical fiber trunk transmission network.

It is worth remembering that in 1996, Huawei released the first SDH equipment SBS155/622, which officially entered the optical transmission network industry. This means that optical fiber communication in China is not only a government-led infrastructure construction, but also a vibrant and diversified market track.

Compared with the initial state in China, the overseas optical fiber communication market has experienced a complete vigorous development cycle throughout the 1990s. The most typical case is the ups and downs of the well-known telecommunications and communications companies Nortel Networks.

In the mid-1990s, the transmission capacity of most fiber-optic communications remained at 2.5 G. People also assume that this speed is the upper limit of fiber transmission. Nortel has launched a 10 G SDH product through technological breakthroughs. In that era when the Internet bubble was booming, people had infinite expectations for the possibility of the Internet. This amazing experience improvement has naturally become the most powerful lever to leverage the market. In the tide, Luo Shijie, the CEO of Nortel Networks at that time, put forward the slogan "Fiber Optic Revolution". New technology is also sweeping the world like a wave of revolution. At its peak, Nortel once occupied 43% of the global optical fiber communication equipment market share. Lucent Technologies ranked second, with a market share of only one-third of the former.

Heavy pressure and rewards: Why must Chinese runners catch up?

The big waves on the market never stop. Soon, a revolutionary Nortel soon set off, and because of the bursting of the Internet bubble, it caused an inventory backlog and wrongly judged the market development direction. It was too large for 40G large-capacity fiber research and development. The poor management of the enterprise eventually led to bankruptcy and withdrew from the communications industry stage.

But this "optical fiber revolution" left communication manufacturers, especially Chinese communication manufacturers, with an important revelation-the world's desire for technological progress and its sensitivity to technological progress far exceed people's imagination.

Looking back around 2000, the seemingly obscure road of China's optical fiber communications, we can also see the twinkling stars of innovation.


Huawei has launched self-developed SDH series chips in 1997, and improved the original SDH architecture. In 1998, it launched a more flexible MADM architecture. Also at this stage, the acceptance test was completed for the 863 project jointly undertaken by ZTE and Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications. The optical add-drop multiplexing equipment developed by both parties began to be put into commercial use. This investment in innovation by Chinese companies not only lays the foundation for follow-up technology research and development, but also continuously increases the proportion of self-developed technology to balance costs, helping Chinese local communication companies to win greater success in subsequent competition.

Now it seems that from these achievements and the development stage of China's science and technology at that time, it has been possible to capture the trace of Chinese optical fiber communication manufacturers that will surely move towards the industry tide:

One is the trace of accumulation and storage.

Although the market-oriented development of communications is later than that of developed countries, China lags far behind on fiber-optic communications technology. In addition, due to different development stages, enterprises such as Huawei and ZTE have not been stricken by the bursting of the Internet bubble like Nortel, and eventually they can store their strength and become more flexible in R&D and market development.

The second is the occasion of surge and undercurrent.

Outside of the communications industry, China's rapid economic development around 2000, and the first generation of Internet companies holding their feet, all mean that this market is doing well for the communications industry. In addition, the demographic dividend effect of China was just emerging, and a large number of data agencies concluded that China will become the world's largest broadband market. The huge number of users, the developing Internet economy and China's emphasis on infrastructure construction. All bring more pressure to optical fiber communication manufacturers.

Under heavy pressure and great rewards, the Chinese optical fiber communication manufacturers that have already gone halfway have no choice but to bet on the future of technological innovation.

All things tilted in 2006

2006 was an important time node, and countless far-reaching changes occurred around it.

At the time, the number of Facebook users was gradually overtaking Myspace. SNS social media, which hosts rich game APIs, music modules, photos and text, has replaced blogs with a single content format.

In the same period of time, an "Internet Music Survey Report" showed that 50% of users no longer bought or rarely bought CDs and chose to use the Internet to meet their music listening needs.

The trajectory of people's behavior is quietly sloping and circulating due to technology, communication is more ubiquitous than before, and more expectations are obtained than before-SDH mode is not perfect, except for rate and capacity, SDH's scheduling mode is more It is complicated, and it has poor flexibility when dealing with failures, and it has a large spread to the business. Internet companies are eager for a higher-speed and stable communication network to release their imagination in business. Communication companies are also eager for technological innovation, so that they can embrace the incremental market at a lower cost in the past infrastructure.

In this process, we can clearly see that, among the followers, China is constantly catching up to the forefront. For example, when the International Telecommunication Union released the SDH standard, Chinese companies did more to launch related products.


However, when the International Telecommunication Union launched the OTN (Optical Transport Network) with larger capacity and photoelectric double-layer scheduling in 2006, Chinese companies such as Huawei had already contributed 75% of the standard setting work behind it. Also in this year, with its self-developed chip capabilities and innovative architecture, Huawei's SDH market share has risen rapidly to reach the number one position in the world. Until today, Huawei's SDH products are still used in many industries that require high communication stability, such as power and railways.

And in 2008, two years later, Huawei released the MA5600T, the industry's first optical copper integrated access platform. In the long process of light entering and retreating from copper, this mode of using a variety of pure light, pure copper, and light copper mixed access networks on one platform has naturally become an excellent choice.

At the other end of the world, the fiber optic communications market is also changing. With the impact of the bursting of the Internet bubble, coupled with the growth of powerful rivals in the East. The optical fiber communication market with a large number of players has begun to show a trend of integration. The most typical is the merger of Alcatel and Lucent at the end of 2006. After the merger, Alcatel-Lucent paid more attention to the "follow-up business" in the Chinese market, and in 2007 it once became the second largest communications equipment manufacturer in the Chinese market after Huawei.

Ten years of butterfly changes at the Chinese circuit

But what is interesting is that the situation on the Chinese circuit is not only surging because of the competition of the followers, but also depends on the ups and downs of the track itself. Back in time, China and Chinese technology companies are no longer jumping in the moment of change as they did in 2006, seizing the opportunity.

For more than ten years, this place has become a land that breeds change.

From 2006 to the present, the development of communication technology and the Internet has undergone a violent evolution of systematization.

1. The germination of the Internet of Everything.

From the popularization of mobile devices to the IoT gradually entering the industry and life, in the concept of Internet of Things, which is repeatedly mentioned, "10,000" and "interconnect" have put forward new demands for communication networks: the number of predictable network terminals Continued growth means that the connection demand for these nodes is growing exponentially. This situation puts forward new requirements for the advancement of network architecture, network stability, bandwidth, etc.


2. The inclusiveness of the business side.

The simultaneous occurrence with the Internet of Everything is that the overall business environment is changing. Industrial intelligence, smart industry, and the popularization of enterprises on the cloud are making optical fiber communications an indispensable part of diving into more enterprises. Under this premise, how does the fiber optic network better serve users at the O&M level?

3. Butterfly changes in communication technology.

The most important thing is the change of communication technology itself. The emergence of 5G and the application of Wi-Fi 6 protocol all mean that human beings are constantly moving forward on the path of chasing the speed of light. As an important part of the communication bridge, optical fiber communication should also have a lower-level technology butterfly.

Under this evolution, the technological innovation of optical fiber communication manufacturers obviously touched the roots, and systematically defined the development trend of optical fiber communication for at least the next ten years-this game is entering an unknown state, and the leaders are heading for the correct Somewhere, there will be a runway at your feet. Judging from the results, the responsibility of the leader ultimately rests with China's own optical fiber communication manufacturers.

Pathfinder Huawei: Towards the future of all-optical networks

On Huawei, we can clearly experience the "pathfinding". We can use three keywords to summarize the current actions of fiber manufacturers.

"Breaking the boundary"-by breaking the inherent boundary, push technological innovation to the next level.

After contributing 75% of the standards to OTN, Huawei is still improving OTN. The industry's first Liquid OTN optical transport solution released by Huawei this year emphasizes that the optical transport network should evolve from a physical bearer network to a business bearer network. Through the ubiquitous connection, bandwidth lossless adjustment, ultra-low transmission delay and other capabilities, to meet the network experience of different services. At the beginning of 2020, the ETSI standards organization established the F5G working group to accelerate the process of fiber-to-the-home to fiber-optic connections by advancing standard formulation and industrial implementation. All this means that 10G PON technology will be officially commercialized, and services that are highly sensitive to communication speed and stability, such as autonomous driving, cloud VR, and high-definition live broadcast, will soon be within reach. Through the cooperation of three levels of optical transmission, optical access and optical cat, ubiquitous capabilities and network resource utilization capabilities are being integrated into the user experience.


"Breakthrough"-Trying to break through the theoretical and engineering capabilities.

The ability to break the limit seems to be understood as the limit of runners to their physical fitness. In fact, in the process of surviving the fittest in the optical fiber communications market, companies such as Nortel, which withdrew from the historical arena, basically find that their "physical fitness" has reached the upper limit. And when the runners break through their own limits, they are undoubtedly changing the entry standard for the entire game. Huawei HiSilicon's continuous investment and innovation in research and development will greatly enhance the competitiveness of Huawei's optical products. Manufacturers who once competed with Huawei have now shown a backward trend. There is also the OXC all-optical cross-over technology that concentrates a thousand optical fibers on the optical backplane. It also achieves 0 continuous fibers in the station through the breakthrough of engineering capabilities, which greatly reduces the complexity of troubleshooting.

"Broken"-break through the inherent business paradigm to adapt to the overall development of the technology industry.

Last year, Huawei released an enterprise-oriented smart all-optical network strategy, and launched innovative "three-beam" products around all-optical parks, all-optical data center interconnection, and all-optical bearer application scenarios. This is the first optical network strategy for the enterprise market. It introduces leading optical connection technologies and successful experience into enterprise parks, data centers, and production communications, and becomes the driving base for enterprise digital transformation. As of the end of 2019, Huawei's "three beam" products have been used in 3,800 customers in 158 countries and regions, serving many industries including government, energy, transportation, education, medical care, and finance. When more and more enterprises begin to contact the all-optical network, the "information highway" and minimal network experience will become the core competitive advantage of enterprises in the near future.

After breaking everything, Huawei is heading to the future of all-optical networks, and it will be a ubiquitous future for optical connections.


It took humans a hundred years to chase the light, and the light also moved forward a hundred light years.

When it can be embodied in life, we find that the distance of "100 light years" seems to be short. A hundred years ago, we could only hear the blurred sound of light through a thin piece of mica. One hundred years later, when you turn on your mobile phone or computer, the light everywhere falls on our palms, showing the scenery on the other side of the earth in real time.

When Huawei began to invest more in the enterprise's all-optical network, we seemed to be able to foresee the next steps of the company. Enterprises that are hovering in different industrial scenarios are like sluice gates, diverting optical network capabilities to every tiny channel, industrial production, medical care, enterprise parks... until such capabilities are ubiquitous. At the same time, the optical fiber itself also has unlimited evolutionary space. For example, the sensing concept currently used in industry and agriculture can also be combined with the communication network. The optical fiber can also have sensing capabilities, and it can detect changes in deformation, temperature, etc., and reduce it from the physical level. The possibility of an accident. In the end, the optical fiber network will be infinitely close to digitalization, and it will cover every corner of life more lightly.

This journey of chasing lights will not end. The chaser will continue to capture the power of light and change the world.

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