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The 800G Ethernet is a brand-new concept as compared to 200 and 400G Ethernet. However, the pace at which the internet traffic is growing is indicating the future need for high bandwidth networking especially in hyper-scale data centers and cloud computation. According to some experts next three to five years will decide whether we can stick with our existing network infrastructure or we have to proceed further. Currently, we have several workgroups working on the development of 800G Ethernet hardware and protocol specifications. Let us talk about a few.      

IEEE & the 800G Development

The IEEE organization hasn’t yet started working on the 800G Ethernet standard. However, the 25 Gigabit Ethernet Consortium (now known as Ethernet Technology Consortium) came ahead with the 800GBASE-R specification for 800GbE last year. According to ETC (Ethernet Technology Consortium), the objective of the 800GBASE-R specification is the redefining of existing 400GbE standard logic to create a media access control (MAC) and a Physical Coding Sublayer (PCS) specification for 800GbE. Thus, it can also be regarded as a broadened version of 400G Ethernet that introduces new PCS and MAC. The 800GBASE-R specification is based on the existing 106.25G lanes which were introduced in 400G Ethernet, but it aims to double the number of lanes from four to eight at the PCS layer.

800G Pluggable MSA & Possible Scenarios

The 800GBASE-R standard outlines the basic layer and specifications of 800G networks and it will double performance to feed bandwidth hungrier data centers. Here, it is important to understand that the specification of the 800G hardware including optical transceivers is another very important thing to be considered. Back in Sep`19, the 800G Pluggable MSA group came ahead with their very first 800G specification which defines PAM-4 enables aggregate 800G Ethernet transmission with the following two possible options;

  • 800G-SR8: an 8 x 100G module for SR applications to achieve link distances within the range of 60 to 100 meters based on single-mode fiber solution.
  • 800G-FR4: this would be a 4 x 200G type module for which a new FEC is required.

The above-mentioned specification also explains that the best form the OSFP 32 and QSFP112-DD would be the ideal form factors for the upcoming 800G pluggable modules. Moreover, the 800G MSA group is convinced that the pluggable form is going to be the interface of choice for data center operators who will opt for 800G networking.

What QSFP-DD800 MSA has to Say?

Another MSA group working for the development of transceivers and comprising of tech giants including Intel, Cisco, Juniper, Broadcom, etc. is also convinced the pluggable form factor is the most appropriate choice for data center connectivity.

Last year, this group came ahead with the first version of the 800G QSFP Double Density optical transceiver, its connector as well as its case system standards resulting in the inception of QSFP-DD800 – the pluggable 800G optical transceiver form factor. According to the available information, the QSFP-DD800 will utilize 8 x 100G high-speed electrical interfaces for connectivity with the host. Moreover, the QSFP-DD800 will be fully compatible with the previous QSFP and QSFP-DD modules including 400G QSFP-DD, QSFP56, QSFP+, and QSFP28, providing operators huge operational and commercial advantages during the deployment of their 800G networks.

Pluggable 800G Optical Modules Update

Today, we have specifications available for 800G optical and Ethernet modules. However, the revision of these specifications in the future cannot be ruled out. This situation won’t affect the development of high-speed modules for data center interconnect. The supply of low-cost, high-volume optics will govern all speed transitions. It is anticipated that beyond 800 Gbps, the pluggable optical transceivers will hit power and density issues.  Alternative technologies such as co-packaged optics (CPO) will be required for the curtailment of such issues.

Availability of 800G Modules in Current Scenario

In the current scenario, the availability of 800G pluggable optical modules isn’t possible for consumer applications because of the structural complications and other optimization related issues. According to the 800G MSA consortium, the first line of 800G modules may get available for testing during 2021. Recently, we heard from Inphi about the development of a new 7nm 800G PAM4 digital signal processor (DAP). According to their claims, it is the first 8 x 100Gbps PAM4 DSP for 800G optical transceiver module in OSFP or QSFP-DD800 form factors and it can be considered as a great milestone that can lead to the industrial-scale production of commercially viable 800G pluggable transceivers. 

However, for the “line-side” networks 800G optics are not new as it is widely used on “line cards”. Line cards can be considered as complicated electronic circuit boards that are used by optical component manufacturers. These cards allow the operators to develop their network solutions with no interoperability or compatibility issues with other line cards. As an example consider WL5e that delivers 800G if bandwidth over a single wavelength and can be tuned to operate at the desired capacity within the range of 200G to 800G. whereas, the same WL5e can be deployed to achieve 600Gb/s transmission rate over 1,000-kilometer links, 200Gb/s over trans-pacific cables, and 400Gb/s across ultra-long-haul routes. Huawei has also launched its optical module for ultra-high-speed applications that can be tuned between 200Gb/s to 800Gb/s to suit various applications.

Both Huawei`s 800G optical module and WL5e can be utilized for metro transmission, data center interconnections, and backbone transmissions. However, it is going to cost way more than that of the existing 100, 200, and 400G networks.

Conclusion

Undoubtedly, the internet traffic and subsequently the bandwidth requirements are increasing at a very high rate. For sure, technology companies are seriously considering the materialization of 800G optical modules and they are also working on enhancing the switching capacity of routers and switches. We already have the basic 800G networking standards and hardware specifications available.  It is believed that the commercial availability of 800G optics is now a matter of a year or two.