Wavelength Division Multiplexing

Posted on Mar 17, 2009 in Knowledge Base

A WDM system uses a multiplexer at the transmitter to join the signals together, and a demultiplexer at the receiver to split them apart. With the right type of fiber it is possible to have a device that does both simultaneously, and can function as an optical add-drop multiplexer. The optical filtering devices used have conventionally been etalons (stable solid-state single-frequency Fabry–Pérot interferometers in the form of thin-film-coated optical glass).

The concept was first published in 1970, and by 1978 WDM systems were being realized in the laboratory. The first WDM systems combined only two signals. Modern systems can handle up to 160 signals and can thus expand a basic 10 Gbit/s system over a single fiber pair to over 1.6 Tbit/s.

WDM systems are popular with telecommunications companies because they allow them to expand the capacity of the network without laying more fiber. By using WDM and optical amplifiers, they can accommodate several generations of technology development in their optical infrastructure without having to overhaul the backbone network. Capacity of a given link can be expanded simply by upgrades to the multiplexers and demultiplexers at each end.

This is often done by use of optical-to-electrical-to-optical (O/E/O) translation at the very edge of the transport network, thus permitting interoperation with existing equipment with optical interfaces.

Most WDM systems operate on Single-Mode Fiber optical cables, which have a core diameter of 9 µm. Certain forms of WDM can also be used in Multi-Mode Fiber cables (also known as premises cables) which have core diameters of 50 or 62.5 µm.

Early WDM systems were expensive and complicated to run. However, recent standardization and better understanding of the dynamics of WDM systems have made WDM less expensive to deploy.

Optical receivers, in contrast to laser sources, tend to be wideband devices. Therefore the demultiplexer must provide the wavelength selectivity of the receiver in the WDM system.

WDM systems are divided into different wavelength patterns, conventional/coarse (CWDM) and dense (DWDM). Conventional WDM systems provide up to 8 channels in the 3rd transmission window (C-Band) of silica fibers around 1550 nm. Dense Wavelength Division Multiplexing (DWDM) uses the same transmission window but with denser channel spacing. Channel plans vary, but a typical system would use 40 channels at 100 GHz spacing or 80 channels with 50 GHz spacing. Some technologies are capable of 12.5 GHz spacing (sometimes called ultra Dense WDM). Such spacings are today only achieved by free-space optics technology. New amplification options (Raman amplification) enable the extension of the usable wavelengths to the L-band, more or less doubling these numbers.

Coarse Wavelength Division Multiplexing (CWDM) in contrast to conventional WDM and DWDM uses increased channel spacing to allow less sophisticated and thus cheaper transceiver designs. To provide 8 channels on a single fiber CWDM uses the entire frequency band between second and third transmission window (1310/1550 nm respectively) including both windows (minimum dispersion window and minimum attenuation window) but also the critical area where OH scattering may occur, recommending the use of OH-free silica fibers in case the wavelengths between second and third transmission window should also be used. Avoiding this region, the channels 47, 49, 51, 53, 55, 57, 59, 61 remain and these are the most commonly used.

WDM, DWDM and CWDM are based on the same concept of using multiple wavelengths of light on a single fiber, but differ in the spacing of the wavelengths, number of channels, and the ability to amplify the multiplexed signals in the optical space. EDFA provide an efficient wideband amplification for the C-band, Raman amplification adds a mechanism for amplification in the L-band. For CWDM wideband optical amplification is not available, limiting the optical spans to several tens of kilometres.

Wavelength converting transponders

At this stage, some details concerning Wavelength Converting Transponders should be discussed, as this will clarify the role played by current DWDM technology as an additional optical transport layer. It will also serve to outline the evolution of such systems over the last 10 or so years.

As stated above, wavelength converting transponders served originally to translate the transmit wavelength of a client-layer signal into one of the DWDM system’s internal wavelengths in the 1550 nm band (note that even external wavelengths in the 1550 nm will most likely need to be translated, as they will almost certainly not have the required frequency stability tolerances nor will it have the optical power necessary for the system’s EDFA).

In the mid-1990s, however, wavelength converting transponders rapidly took on the additional function of signal regeneration. Signal regeneration in transponders quickly evolved through 1R to 2R to 3R and into overhead-monitoring multi-bitrate 3R regenerators. These differences are outlined below:

Retransmission. Basically, early transponders were “garbage in garbage out” in that their output was nearly an analogue ‘copy’ of the received optical signal, with little signal cleanup occurring. This limited the reach of early DWDM systems because the signal had to be handed off to a client-layer receiver (likely from a different vendor) before the signal deteriorated too far. Signal monitoring was basically confined to optical domain parameters such as received power.
Re-time and re-transmit. Transponders of this type were not very common and utilized a quasi-digitalSchmitt-triggering method for signal clean-up. Some rudimentary signal quality monitoring was done by such transmitters that basically looked at analogue parameters.
Re-time, re-transmit, re-shape. 3R Transponders were fully digital and normally able to view SONET/SDH section layer overhead bytes such as A1 and A2 to determine signal quality health. Many systems will offer 2.5 Gbit/s transponders, which will normally mean the transponder is able to perform 3R regeneration on OC-3/12/48 signals, and possibly Gigabit Ethernet, and reporting on signal health by monitoring SONET/SDH section layer overhead bytes. Many transponders will be able to perform full multi-rate 3R in both directions. Some vendors offer 10 Gbit/s transponders, which will perform Section layer overhead monitoring to all rates up to and including OC-192.
The muxponder (from multiplexed transponder) has different names depending on vendor. It essentially performs some relatively simple time division multiplexing of lower rate signals into a higher rate carrier within the system (a common example is the ability to accept 4 OC-48s and then output a single OC-192 in the 1550 nm band). More recent muxponder designs have absorbed more and more TDM functionality, in some cases obviating the need for traditional SONET/SDH transport equipment.

Reconfigurable optical add-drop multiplexer (ROADM)

As mentioned above, intermediate optical amplification sites in DWDM systems may allow for the dropping and adding of certain wavelength channels. In most systems deployed as of August 2006 this is done infrequently, because adding or dropping wavelengths requires manually inserting or replacing wavelength-selective cards. This is costly, and in some systems requires that all active traffic be removed from the DWDM system, because inserting or removing the wavelength-specific cards interrupts the multi-wavelength optical signal.

With a ROADM, network operators can remotely reconfigure the multiplexer by sending soft commands. The architecture of the ROADM is such that dropping or adding wavelengths does not interrupt the ‘pass-through’ channels. Numerous technological approaches are utilized for various commercial ROADMs, the trade off being between cost, optical power, and flexibility.

Optical cross connects (OXCs)

When the network topology is a mesh, where nodes are interconnected by fibres to form an arbitrary graph, an additional fibre interconnection device is needed to route the signals from an input port to the desired output port. These devices are called optical crossconnectors (OXCs).Various categories of OXCs include electronic (“opaque”), optical (“transparent”), and wavelength selective devices.

Enhanced WDM

Cisco’s Enhanced WDM system combines 1 GB Coarse Wave Division Multiplexing (CWDM) connections using SFPs and GBICs with 10 GB Dense Wave Division Multiplexing (DWDM) connections using Xenpak, X2, or XFP DWDM modules. These DWDM connections can either be passive or boosted to allow a longer range for the connection

Transceivers versus transponders

  • Transceivers – Since communication over a single wavelength is one-way (simplex communication), and most practical communication systems require two-way (duplex communication) communication, two wavelengths will be required (which might or might not be on the same fiber, but typically they will be each on a separate fiber in a so-called fiber pair). As a result, at each end both a transmitter (to send a signal over a first wavelength) and a receiver (to receive a signal over a second wavelength) will be required. A combination of a transmitter and a receiver is called a transceiver; it converts an electrical signal to and from an optical signal.There is usually types transceiver based on WDM technology.
    • Coarse WDM (CWDM) Transceivers:Wavelength 1270nm, 1290nm, 1310nm, 1330nm, 1350nm, 1370nm, 1390nm, 1410nm, 1430nm, 1450nm , 1470nm , 1490nm, 1510nm, 1530nm, 1550nm, 1570nm, 1590nm, 1610nm.
    • Dense WDM (DWDM) Transceivers:Channel 17 to Channel 61 according to ITU-T.
  • Transponder – In practice, the signal inputs and outputs will not be electrical but optical instead (typically at 1550 nm). This means that in effect we need wavelength converters instead, which is exactly what a transponder is. A transponder can be made up of two transceivers placed after each other: the first transceiver converting the 1550 nm optical signal to/from an electrical signal, and the second transceiver converting the electrical signal to/from an optical signal at the required wavelength. Transponders that don’t use an intermediate electrical signal (all-optical transponders) are in development.