Yesterday, news reports surfaced about Infinera's new product line that will be released at NXTComm next week. It turns out, that the company that rejuvenated OEO (Optical-Electrical-Optical) switching with the photonic integrated circuit (PIC) is now incorporating all-optical features into it. Included are Raman amplification for reach up to 2500km (at 10Gbps) and an 'optical express' capability to allow some traffic to avoid the very OEO transition they have made cheap. What gives?
Well to put it simply, Infinera is telling us that they may have initially focused on OEO, but their innovation is and always has been integration of many components onto a chip, thus making what we already know how to do cheaper and more scalable. They don't actually care how people design the network - they are going to give them the tools regardless. Until now their PICs have been like tinkertoys - wonderful digital pieces but not very long ones - the overall cost reductions in populated regions more than compensated for the long stretches (e.g. Denver to Las Vegas) where it wasn't as optimal. Now? Even better, you can now use the short tinker toys on the east coast, and mix and match the new extra long ones out west where it makes lots of sense. So NYC-Philadelphia is a single digital circuit, but so is Denver to Seattle. It's still digital, it's just that distance matters less.
As an engineer, I find this to be a very elegant resolution to the OEO/OOO religious war. Using the same equipment, one can design their network however one pleases and let the marketplace sort out which way is best. I wonder what George Gilder, he of the all-optical vision, is thinking about this?