– Why new records for long-distance optical transport is important for the Nordic region

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In February, GlobalConnect and Nokia set two new records for long-distance optical transport. Over metro distances of 118km, they achieved a top speed of 1.2 Tb/s. Over long-haul distances of 2,019km, they achieved 800 Gb/s. Both were transmitted over a single wavelength and without regeneration, using Nokia’s sixth generation super-coherent Photonic Service Engine (PSE-6s).

Johan Bergin, GlobalConnect Carrier Head of Sales, explains what that means for our customers.

Q: Why are these records so important to the Nordics?

JB: I think all technological development is important. It serves the purpose of doing more with less. That’s the general direction of development; you want things to be more efficient and accessible to more people. But that only happens with time, as the cost falls.

If you look at the automotive industry, as one example, you’ll see that the new technology always starts with the top end models. That’s where you have the newest inventions and the coolest gadgets. Then it trickles down to more affordable models, so your average driver gets to use that technology. This is more or less the same thing.

We need companies like Nokia to be at the forefront of development, pushing the boundaries on actual technology that we use every day. And in this case, we’re talking about lasers and photonics. Nokia is able to cram in more light at a higher speed to existing infrastructure. That enables us to deliver more, and better services from each and every asset, so that we don’t have to invest so heavily in new infrastructure to enable those speeds. It’s a matter of efficiency. And it’s like wizardry the way they do it. They’re not supposed to be able to, but they can. 

Q: Why does that matter to a Carrier customer?

JB: There are several layers that our customers are looking for. If you’re a general, mid-sized company that would like to connect a couple of offices, you can typically do that over the internet. That’s fine. You’ll have the features you want, and you can share data because you probably store it in the cloud.

If you take one step up, you might want to transmit large volumes of data between London and Sheffield, for example. You’ll need a certain amount of bandwidth for that. Going over the internet will make the transmission too vulnerable. It will be unable to cope with it. That’s when you need a point-to-point solution – a private line from one end to the other. That’s a typical ethernet or wavelength customer.

Then you start going higher and higher to the point where you really need to control your data. The big organisations. At that point, you’ve outgrown wavelengths. The next step is to acquire the actual infrastructure – the fiber, the thread. If you control the thread, you can transmit multiple wavelengths along that thread. But, of course, buying the fiber is far more expensive than buying wavelengths. It’s like buying a piece of land to build a private highway. It’s going to cost you a lot of money, but you have total control over the lanes, the speeds, the height, the width. You need to be a specific customer to make use of that kind of infrastructure. And that’s the kind of customer that will benefit from this new technology.

Q: What kinds of customers are you talking about?

JB: You’ll find these in any industry, such as video-conferencing software or the companies producing devices to contact your friends on. Any company that needs to control its own data.

Retailers often require much higher capacity for their networks. They need to store and transmit huge volumes of transactional data, and control it. The same could be said for social media companies and search engines.

Automotive manufacturers present a really good example. Let’s imagine a global car manufacturer that can service cars remotely by updating the software and fixing bugs online. It requires the total bandwidth of the network, so it really needs to control and store that data. It also needs to control the way it distributes that data.

Q: If this technology is the ‘Mercedes S Class’ of telecommunications then, when will it become available to companies with smaller budgets?

JB: Technology is typically available instantly in our business. But price-wise, it’s out of reach because it’s so expensive at the moment. You’d have to be able to argue the business case, speculatively or opportunistically, that would justify this type of investment.

We’re still at the stage where we supply multiple 100 Gb circuits in our existing infrastructure. With each circuit, the cost rises because of the required equipment and infrastructure, so the next natural step would be to make 400 Gb circuits commercially available. But pricing needs to be on a level where customers can cope with it. 400 Gb circuits are still just a bit too expensive. 800 Gb would be the step after 400 Gb – in the not too distant future, in other words.

It’s a financial question. It’s also a reliability question. It’s a bit of an investment for the customers to look to move to the next step. But we are having final conversations with several customers to do that now, because the benefits are so big for them.