The Taxonomy of Transceivers, Revisited (Part 1)

When we look back on our nearly two decades as a leading provider of optical transceivers, the most salient truth is the only constant in the world of open networking is change. The appetite for more bandwidth is accelerating across all industries, and solutions providers like us are racing just ahead of the need to ensure network operators have the most efficient, cost-effective solutions to their ever-growing challenges.

It feels like so much has changed since we first looked at optical transceivers here at the dawn of the past decade, so this week, we’re going to look back at our overview, and explore some of the most important developments from the intervening years.

A Lasting Taxonomy

While optical transceivers have advanced tremendously over the past decade, the features that differentiate one from another have remained remarkably constant, at a high level. These taxonomic factors have evolved as follows:

Form Factor

Back in 2012, the form factor landscape looked considerably different. While the SFP family of form factors were a clear favorite for their efficiency and port density, erstwhile alternatives like the earlier GBICs, X2s, and XENPAKs have largely gone extinct. In the 10G space, even XFPs have fallen out of favor.

While this sort of consensus is expected, the more remarkable advancements have occurred in the higher data rate space. For example, in 2012, the only open standards-based option was the massive CFP. Now, 100G speeds are achievable in the QSFP28 form factor, which consume roughly 75% less power than a CFP with a much smaller footprint. The next frontier is the battle for 400G supremacy.

Data Rate

The changes in form factor are inextricably linked to the growing need for higher and higher data rates per port. Where once a 10G core might’ve sufficed, 100G is now necessary. On top of that, 400G is gaining a foothold, and 800G may not be far around the corner

Protocol Support

While some large telecom networks still require support for legacy SONET applications and equipment, these are becoming fewer and farther between. The past near-decade of network upgrades has made Ethernet the protocol of choice for many network applications, complemented by transport protocols like OTN OTU4.

Rated Distance/Optical Link Budget

The rated distance a transceiver can send data is largely governed by its optical link budget, or the difference between its minimum output (transmit) power and receiver sensitivity. While lower data rate SFPs can now go up to 160km, the truly incredible advancement is, again, in the higher data rates.

Need some perspective on where things are heading next? You can always schedule a consultation with us to learn more about our roadmap and how we can help you overcome today’s (and tomorrow’s!) network challenges. For part 2 of this series, check back in on our blog next week.


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