NGOF: Taking Optical Networks to the Next Level

Emir Halilovic – Principal Analyst

Summary Bullets:

  • The Next Generation Optical Forum (NGOF) was founded in 2017, gathering predominantly China-based telcos, academic institutions, equipment vendors, and component/chip suppliers; in 2020, the association wants to accelerate its work on the requirements for future optical networks.
  • The current focus of the NGOF is high-quality private line technology and standards, the new generations of OTN, and 5G transport-related technologies.

Who Is the NGOF?

Founded in 2017, the NGOF has around 40 members, including network operators, system vendors, component and chip vendors, testing equipment vendors, and academic organizations. Most members are Chinese or China-based; however, some (especially on the vendor and component side) are based outside of China.

In order to accelerate the deployment and commercialization of new technologies, the NGOF has established five working groups:

  • Cloud and private line bearing technology
  • Optical module technology for metro application
  • 5G transport technology
  • High-capacity WDM transmission technology
  • Submarine transmission technology

In each of the respective fields, the association promotes discussion on technologies and solutions, supporting industry standards and cooperation in innovation efforts among its members. The NGOF also drives equipment testing, interoperability testing, and field trials and deployments.

So far, the NGOF’s work has included several projects across different optical networking use cases. Among the most notable is its work in 5G transport, where the NGOF has developed 5G fronthaul solutions in point-to-point and point-to-multipoint configurations. The point-to-point solution, based on a 25G bi-directional direct-connect solution, is claimed to achieve 50% lower use of fiber resources. The NGOF has also tested point-to-multipoint structure G.metro and WDM solutions.

Cloud connectivity and private lines have been (and remain) another key area of focus for the NGOF. In its 2018 and 2019 white papers, the association has defined a set of five criteria for rating private line services, aimed at qualifying private lines and making their quality parameters more easily understandable to enterprise clients. This standard became one of the most important guidelines for Chinese telcos to address the high-end enterprise market in 2019. The criteria are as follows:

  • Guaranteed Bandwidth: End-to-end physical bandwidth isolation and L1 encryption on demand.
  • High Availability: With zero bit rate/24 hours and 99.99% or higher availability.
  • Low Latency and Jitter: Minimal and load-independent latency close to the physical medium limit.
  • Service Agility: Scheduled provisioning of connectivity services, with provisioning times measured in minutes.
  • Online Self-Management: Key indicators used here are visualization capability and lossless modification.

Priorities for Future Work

Going forward, one major area of work for the NGOF includes extending OTN technology to improve its capacity, flexibility, and service differentiation. The NGOF identifies three main areas where today’s OTN needs to improve:

  • Sub-1G Bandwidth Services: The lowest granularity of today’s OTN is ODU0 (about 1.25 Gbps); the NGOF aims to bring OTN granularity down to the 1 Mbps level, enabling the use of low-capacity OTN links in enterprise WAN and facilitating the migration from legacy SDH services.
  • Packet Transport: OTN extensions for multi-service, including packet services. The improvements should allow for flexible bandwidth tuning from 1 Mbps to several hundred Gbps at an Mbps level, step based on the same SDH-like (TDM-based) hard pipe mechanism.
  • Differentiated Service Experience: The evolved OTN should allow for various customized service requirements, like differentiated latency, to be met based on the same infrastructure.

Through its work, the NGOF aims to augment existing OTN capabilities – hard pipe, zero packet loss, security isolation, and stable latency – with new features like flexible bandwidth, unified OSU switching, latency priority, and backward compatibility for smooth evolution from existing OTN.

Industry Support: Key for NGOF Success

Another key priority for the association is the work on next-gen WDM, aiming to explore methodology for increasing wavelength capacities while keeping long transmission distances and extending spectrum use (through extended C and C+L band use).

To achieve its goals, the NGOF positions itself not as another standards organization, but rather a more practical body that aims to define requirements and influence standards work in bodies like ITU, ETSI, or China Communications Standards Association (CCSA) on one hand and to produce blueprints for practical, deployable solutions on the other. The NGOF’s goals and its members’ activities in working groups represent a valuable step in industry cooperation, as it has the potential both to reduce time to market for innovative solutions in optical transport and to have more influence on standards than any individual members’ submissions.

Finally, one of NGOF’s essential goals for 2020 is making the association more international. To this end, NGOF members have delivered workshops and lectures at international conferences like OFC and ECOC sharing the experience, ideas, and progress from its work. The aim is to help the global community better understand the optical industry in China and motivate collaboration with international support and input.

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