An interview with Infinera’s Robert Shore, SVP Global Marketing, and Peter Zwinkels, Vice President Sales – Global Submarine Solutions

Editor’s Note: Over the past decade, Infinera has become a major supplier of transmission equipment for the submarine cable industry.  The company’s technology is recognized for its innovation.  At ITW, SubCableWorld had the pleasure to meet with Robert Shore, SVP Global Marketing, and Peter Zwinkels, Vice President Sales – Global Submarine Solutions, to discuss the company’s current technology and where submarine cables are heading into the future. Their comments are below. 

Mr. Shore: Infinera was founded on optical innovation and leadership, particularly high-capacity, high-performance optical solutions.  We’ve become increasingly focused on those solutions going forward with continued evolution of our Infinite Capacity Engine (ICE), first introduced almost a decade ago. 

Our current version, ICE-4, came out with a lot of pioneering technologies, such as the industry’s first implementation of transmission based on Nyquist subcarriers and SD-FEC gainsharing across 6 optical signals.   And that product has been really successful for us, particularly in the subsea market where optical performance and spectral density are extremely important.  Despite the introduction of 400G and 600G based solutions, ICE-4, which is a 200G based transmission solution, continues to lead the market in performance and spectral density over long optical links, such as subsea, , which is why we still win a lot of big contracts. 

Infinera was in the process of developing its 600-Gig ICE-5 when we acquired Coriant, which already had a 600-Gig technology. So we stopped development of ICE-5 and went to market with the Coriant product.  It is now generally available, but ICE-4 still outperforms it subsea distances.  The Coriant product is strongest in the metro market. 

We’re seeing that the next generation of 800 Gig is right around the corner.  We see that as a big opportunity for us.  Most of the companies working in the 200/600 Gig arena are shifting resources to ZR technology, which is mostly metro based.  There aren’t many companies looking at the 800 Gig market, so there should be a lot of opportunities for us with limit competition. 

We think Infinera is uniquely positioned for success in the high-speed transmission market as we reach speeds greater than 600G.  At 600G – or 66Gbaud – and below, the DSP was the dominant factor. And while we have an industry leading DSP, there were several others that also had home grown DSPs. However, as we go beyond 600G – to 88Gbaud and above – the optics become an increasingly important component in transmissions.

Infinera is the only vendor in the industry right now that owns both sides – our own DSP branded the FlexCoherent and our own integrated optical front end with our Photonic Integrated Circuit and Induim Phosphide foundry.

Mr. Zwinkels: Infinera has been strong in the longhaul and subsea market since our founding.  We started with 10-Gig upgrades, then to 40 and 100 Gig, and recently higher.  In order to be credible in the subsea space, it’s more than just having the best product.  It’s about having lab capabilities, accurate modeling tools and R&D people who know what they’re doing.  It’s about having implementation partners who know how to operate.  We have all of that.  We have an ecosystem of subsea features and support elements.  That’s what you need to be successful.  What we see is that there are some new companies entering the subsea space.  I think they’ll have a short life in it.  They’ll get some upgrades, but they’ll struggle to do upgrades on the older cables because they don’t have the features to do so.  With ICE-4, we already have a lot of market traction.  With ICE-6, we will continue that momentum. 

Spatial Division Multiplexing, or SDM, seems to be the next big shift in subsea cable design. But it’s part of a longer evolution.  For most of the past twenty years cables were built with dispersion managed fibers, and fortunately the first generation of coherent transponders were able to give them a boost from 10G to 100G waves. Then from about 2014 we saw positive dispersion, large area cables that were optimised for coherent, and they gave maybe another factor of three boost to capacity, to 24TB/s transatlantic. You can see the pace of improvement is slowing because we’re approaching the Shannon Limit for individual fiber pairs. So what SDM does is multiply up the number of pairs you can support in a single subsea cable. SLTE manufacturers have to be ready for that change with transponders that can make the most of this new cable architecture.