Aug. 1, 2017

LightCounting publishes a research note on Next Generation Access Networks

LightCounting analysts attended the Next Generation Optical Networking (NGON) conference in Nice, France, and the Optinet conference in Beijing in June, and we saw new presentations on access networks that raised questions about whether ICPs and the China market will drive developments in Next Generation Access Networks (NG PON). These are addressed in a new Research Note by LightCounting titled “Will ICPs and China drive Next Generation Access Networks?”.

Google wants PON to go further with GO-LONG

One of the more interesting presentations was titled “Go-Long – A TWDM Super PON”, given at NGON by Cedric Lam, a co-founder of Google Fiber and now Engineering Director at Google Access. TWDM-PON (Time and Wavelength Division Multiplexed Passive Optical Network) is a PON architecture that uses WDM technology to ‘stack’ multiple PONs on a single 2-fiber route, and it is not new. Both the ITU-T’s NG-PON2 and the IEEEs NG-EPON architectures are variations of this concept.

Google’s take is different in two important ways: 1) it extends the 20 km reach of the GPON/EPON standards to 50 km, and 2) it allows for the addition of 10G, 40G or 100G point-to-point services over the same fibers within the network.

GO-LONG specifically aims to reduce network capex and opex, in two ways. Increasing the reach of PON networks to 50 km reduces the number of Central Office (CO) sites that need to be equipped with OLTs in a metro area by a factor of 5 or 6 times, which can reduce costs associated with owning/renting real estate and providing power. And using WDM to stack 12 PONs in a single fiber pair reduces the number of fibers needed in a given cable leaving the CO by 12X, which reduces splice time after a feeder cable cut from 12 hours to 40 minutes, reduces fiber lease costs, and eases the fiber management burden. 

However, GO-LONG incorporates several new optical technologies which are currently at the prototype stage and need to undergo cost reduction before the overall system cost per home-passed becomes palatable to service providers.

Optical innovations needed to make GO-LONG commercially feasible


Source: C. Lam, Google Fiber     

As shown in the diagram, the new optical devices needed to implement GO-LONG are a DWDM OLT burst mode transceiver, a fiber expander with gain-clamped EDFA, a cyclical AWG, and a DWDM tunable laser for the ONT. Developing the tunable laser for the ONT is probably the most challenging, because the cost is not spread out over many customers, as is the case with the other three devices listed. This stumbling block is common to all WDM PON architectures, but is made more difficult for GO-LONG because it aims to utilize up to 16 wavelengths at 100 GHz spacing, compared to just four different wavelengths as is needed for NG-PON2 and the IEEE’s NG-EPON.

To date though, none of the other large ICPs – Amazon, Facebook, and Microsoft – have shown any interest in trying to influence the direction of access network evolution. And industry collaboration on access network development has been more focused on those 4-wavelength PON standards.

Even so, while NG-PON2 and NG-EPON are getting most of the attention and activity at present, actual deployment to date is minimal, and we should not discount the possibility that a better solution like Google’s GO-LONG will overcome its hurdles and win over some operators in time for the next build cycle.

3D Sensing for Self-Driving Cars Reaches the Peak of Inflated Expectations

LightCounting releases a new report addressing illumination in smartphones and automotive lidarIn 2019, the market for VCSEL (vertical cavity surface-emitting laser) illumination in smartphones will exceed $1.0 billion – now nearly triple the size of the market for communications VCSELs. That’s quite remarkable for a market that didn’t exist three years ago.3D sensing in smartphones felt like an overnight sensation, but the technology foundations were laid down years ago with Microsoft’s Kinect – a motion-sensing peripheral for gamers released in 2010 but discontinued in 2017 after lackluster sales. Lumentum supplied lasers to the Kinect almost a decade before the iPhone opportunity emerged; the company was ready to profit from the iPhone X opportunity when Apple decided to launch 3D sensing for facial recognition in September 2017.

Figure: 3D depth-sensing meets the Gartner Hype Cycle

3D Sensing

Source: Gartner with edits by LightCounting

If all technologies follow the Gartner Hype Cycle, shown in the Figure above, then 3D sensing in smartphones is now moving up the slope of enlightenment. Android brands raced to add 3D sensing to their flagship phones in 2018 – the Xiaomi Mi8 Explorer and Oppo Find X phones were first – although these only sold in single digit million quantities. Huawei also brought out new phones with 3D sensing, but the ongoing U.S. export ban on the Chinese company must be hurting the company’s traction outside China. Apple continues to dominate the market as all new iPhones released by Apple since 2017 have included 3D sensing on the front of the phone. Apple is expected to introduce 3D sensing for ‘world-facing’ applications in 2020, which adds another laser chip to every phone.

Last year illumination for lidars were not included in our market forecast since LightCounting considered it unlikely that lidar would penetrate the consumer market to any great extent over the forecast period. All indicators now point to a market for lidar illumination ramping up in 2022 and beyond. Optical components firms are now shipping prototypes and samples of VCSELs, edge emitters and coherent lasers to customers developing next-generation lidar systems – many of them building on their expertise in illumination for optical communications and smartphones.

As was the case with smartphones, the foundations for lidar technology were laid down much earlier – in this case with the DARPA Challenge 2007, where the winning vehicle used a 64-laser lidar system from Velodyne Acoustics (now Velodyne Lidar). Lidar is considered by the majority of the industry to be an essential part of the sensor suite required for autonomous driving, helping the vehicle to navigate through the environment and detect obstacles in its path. The first commercial deployments have begun. In Germany, lidar on the Audi A8 enables the car to drive itself for limited periods under specific conditions. In Phoenix, Arizona, you can hail a ride in a Waymo robotaxi.

Investor enthusiasm for lidar is undeniable with nearly half a billion dollars invested in lidar start-ups in 2019 according to our analysis of publicly available investment data. Notable deals include $60 million for U.S. company Ouster in March, Israel’s Innoviz Technologies Series C round of $132 million in the same month, and $100 million for U.S.-based Luminar Technologies in July. Interestingly, these examples illustrate the variety of lidar approaches: each company is building a different type of lidar based on a different wavelength: 850nm for Ouster, 905nm for Innoviz and 1550nm in the case of Luminar. There’s an open technology battle and they can’t all be winners.

The automotive lidar market seems to be close to the peak of ‘inflated expectations’. It’s easy to understand why. The automotive industry is enormous, with nearly 100 million vehicles (including trucks) produced annually. Players like Baidu, GM Cruise and Waymo are backed by deep corporate pockets, and new entrants like Aurora and are attracting hundreds of millions in investment. Intel’s $15.3 billion purchase of Mobileye in 2017 was also directed at autonomous driving. Sensor company AMS is in a $4.8 billion battle to acquire German semiconductor lighting firm Osram with its eye firmly on lidar.

However, signs indicate that the descent into the trough of disillusionment could have already begun. Waymo has yet to roll out its robotaxi services more widely – and this summer admitted that its vehicles needed more testing in the rain. GM Cruise has delayed launch of commercial services for self-driving cars beyond 2019 and is reluctant to commit to a new timescale, with its CEO Dan Ammann observing that safety is paramount; automotive is not an industry where you can “move fast and break things” he said. A casualty of the slow pace was optical phased array lidar developer Oryx Vision, which closed its doors in August and started to hand money back to investors.

While lidar is being deployed commercially today, prices are not conducive to mass production, and there are open questions around regulation, safety, ethics and consumer acceptance. Do local laws prohibit self-driving cars? Will they really be safer than humans? Who is responsible for a crash? LightCounting remains skeptical about the pace of adoption of autonomous vehicles, but will be watching the market closely and with optimism.

More information on the report is available at:

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