Adding Smarts to Optical Networks to Boost Internet Efficiency and Lower Costs

Achievement date: 

Optical networks will make more efficient use of their infrastructure through a system with added smarts developed by investigators at the Center for Integrated Access Networks (CIAN), an NSF-funded Engineering Research Center (ERC) with headquarters at the University of Arizona. The researchers developed an optical system that can adapt its modulation—its information capacity—based on the health of the network, as well as the requirements for the size of the traffic flow that should be delivered.


Optics get smart: this capability, including both the intelligence in the network to determine performance degradation and the ability to adapt and respond, creates an entirely new way of engineering optical communication systems. The old approach of provisioning excess capacity to ensure performance—born in the telecom boom days when fiber bandwidth was abundant—is not scalable and is rapidly using up fiber capacity.


The new approach can enable systems that provide just the capacity that’s needed when it’s needed. A more efficient Internet means more capacity, more bits, at lower cost to keep the Internet going. What CIAN investigators did is to address all above concerns simultaneously. They designed innovative, adaptive modulation schemes that operate under an intelligent, software-defined networking control plane and enable record information capacity and at lower cost with added energy savings.

An intelligent software-defined networking (SDN) control plane was equipped with optical performance monitoring devices that can detect the signal quality degrading as the signal moves through the network. The CIAN team also designed a new optical transceiver that can adapt its modulation and coding formats, thus changing its information capacity.