We stand at a point of convergence where societal needs and technology have come together to transform the world. It is said we are on a “quest to digitize the world,” and it is estimated that by 2026, mobile data traffic will exceed 226 Exabytes per month — that’s 226 billion bytes of data.
Advanced communication technologies, such as 5G, have increased bandwidth, provided real-time response (i.e., latency), and enabled the connection of millions of devices. But 5G is not the end. In fact, it’s just the beginning — 6G is already the hot topic of many conversations concerning the future of network deployment. And the continued step-function improvements in latency and data rates are enabling new applications, such as augmented reality and autonomous vehicles, and driving the need for a massive increase in storage and compute power.
But, technology does not drive growth — it simply enables it. It’s the applications that define growth and also pull the technology to where it needs to be. Today, we see “pull applications,” such as streaming content and video conferencing, driving strong investment at the edge. New applications, like smart agriculture and Industry 4.0, that require low to medium latency (10 ms to 20 ms) are driving micro data centers deeper into the network — to carrier central offices, factory parking lots, or the base of macro towers. Dreams of fully autonomous cars transforming our roadways or fleets of drones delivering our goods will drive compute and storage to street corners and rooftops in order to provide ultralow-latency performance (< 10 ms).
Some industry analysts predict the global population of public/hybrid data centers could grow from thousands today to tens of thousands in the near future due to the need for low latency and redundancy. What will emerge is a mass mesh of interconnected clusters of cloud and edge data centers.
Public and hybrid cloud solutions will dominate the data center space for the foreseeable future.
Retail and colocation providers, such as Equinix, act as today’s edge for hyperscalers, allowing them to deliver applications closer to their customers. Wholesalers, like CyrusOne or EdgeConneX, provide a way for hyperscalers and other large content providers to enter a new region without building a new facility. And, an ecosystem of smaller, regional providers also exists to service hyperscalers, smaller enterprises, and carriers.
What is needed to make all this work is an unprecedented level of connectivity. A deep, dense fabric of fiber is required to achieve the necessary level of performance. The cost and complexity of deploying this infrastructure means it must last for generations. This means these networks must be truly future-proof, and that requires the solutions to be expandable, flexible, and accessible.
To achieve the necessary level of expandability, network designers need to build in the right density of fiber cable — where a per-cable fiber count of 6,912 fibers is not out of the ordinary. In the past, being able to fit this level of density in the limited available duct space was a major inhibitor. To solve this challenge, fiber manufacturers have focused on developing new, flexible ribbon designs that enable an overall decrease in cable size while increasing the density per square meter.
Beyond density, fiber manufacturers also focus on how to improve flexibility in deployment. Modern gel-less ribbon designs combine the benefits of ribbon and loose-tube designs. A technician can work with these modern flexible ribbons either as a 12-fiber ribbon or as an individual fiber. And because they're gel-less and produce no mess, hours of install time can be saved. The flexibility in being able to engage as ribbons or individual fibers, coupled with the gel-less design, enables accessibility in the future.
With these ribbon solutions, a 100% to 200% density increase can be achieved within the same space. Along with overall easier cable management resulting from smaller, lighter cables, the ability to perform mass fusion splicing shows a potential 89% throughput improvement.
From the cloud to the edge, it is critical to maximize the number of connections while minimizing the overall infrastructure footprint. One way to view it is that the ultimate goal of both hyperscale and edge data center providers is to maximize the bandwidth per square inch. This requires more than just fiber and cable innovation. Managing this level of density — where multiple cables, each with thousands of fibers, need to be patched or spliced — requires innovation in splice enclosure designs, patch panels, and fiber distribution management.
Merging innovations in cable design and high-density fiber management results in a true end-to-end solution that provides extensibility, flexibility, and accessibility.
However, in high-density connectivity platforms, another feature is needed, and that is modularity. This provides expandability and flexibility in the evolution of the floor space, enabling data center providers to continuously maximize their bandwidth per square inch and driving continued economic benefit.
The benefit of modular solutions is that modules can be developed to support new and emerging technologies or architectures. Modular designs also allow for different housings to be compatible with the same cassettes. In hyperscale applications, a standard rack unit might hold multiple optical cassettes (e.g., Base-12 to Base-8 conversion cassettes), while, in edge applications, a housing optimized for an outside plant environment and reduced space can hold one or two of the same cassettes. This allows field teams to be trained on a common set of modules/cassettes; providers and integrators to have fewer unit types to stock and manage in inventory; and manufactures to achieve efficiency, supply chain resiliency, and opportunities for cost-down benefits.
Our quest to digitize the world depends upon a vast infrastructure of fiber and optical connectors coupled with a myriad of panels and cabinets. When the right components are chosen, a truly future-proof network can be achieved — one that can support the transformative applications of our emerging reality.