What is DWDM?

Dense Wavelength Division Multiplexing (DWDM) is an optical multiplexing technology used to increase bandwidth over existing fiber networks. DWDM works by combining and transmitting multiple signals simultaneously at different wavelengths on the same fiber. The technology creates multiple virtual fibers, thus multiplying the capacity of the physical medium.

DWDM provides ultimate scalability and reach for fiber networks. Without the capacity and reach of DWDM systems, most Web 2.0 and cloud-computing solutions today would not be feasible. Establishing transport connections as short as tens of kilometers to enabling nationwide and transoceanic transport networks, DWDM is the workhorse of all the bit-pipes keeping the data highway alive and expanding.

WDM has revolutionized the cost per bit of transport. Thanks to DWDM, fiber networks can carry multiple Terabits of data per second over thousands of kilometers – at cost points unimaginable less than a decade ago. State-of-the-art DWDM systems support up to 192 wavelengths on a single pair of fiber, with each wavelength transporting up to 100Gbit/s capacity – 400Gbit/s and one Terabit/s on the horizon.

Dense wavelength division multiplexing (DWDM) refers originally to optical signals multiplexed within the 1550 nm band so as to leverage the capabilities (and cost) of erbium doped fiber amplifiers (EDFAs), which are effective for wavelengths between approximately 1525–1565 nm (C band), or 1570–1610 nm (L band). EDFAs were originally developed to replace SONET/SDH optical-electrical-optical (OEO) regenerators, which they have made practically obsolete. EDFAs can amplify any optical signal in their operating range, regardless of the modulated bit rate. In terms of multi-wavelength signals, so long as the EDFA has enough pump energy available to it, it can amplify as many optical signals as can be multiplexed into its amplification band (though signal densities are limited by choice of modulation format). EDFAs therefore allow a single-channel optical link to be upgraded in bit rate by replacing only equipment at the ends of the link, while retaining the existing EDFA or series of EDFAs through a long haul route. Furthermore, single-wavelength links using EDFAs can similarly be upgraded to WDM links at reasonable cost. The EDFA’s cost is thus leveraged across as many channels as can be multiplexed into the 1550 nm band.

DWDM systems

At this stage, a basic DWDM system contains several main components:
WDM multiplexer for DWDM communications

A DWDM terminal multiplexer. The terminal multiplexer contains a wavelength-converting transponder for each data signal, an optical multiplexer and where necessary an optical amplifier (EDFA). Each wavelength-converting transponder receives an optical data signal from the client-layer, such as Synchronous optical networking [SONET /SDH] or another type of data signal, converts this signal into the electrical domain and re-transmits the signal at a specific wavelength using a 1,550 nm band laser. These data signals are then combined together into a multi-wavelength optical signal using an optical multiplexer, for transmission over a single fiber (e.g., SMF-28 fiber). The terminal multiplexer may or may not also include a local transmit EDFA for power amplification of the multi-wavelength optical signal. In the mid-1990s DWDM systems contained 4 or 8 wavelength-converting transponders; by 2000 or so, commercial systems capable of carrying 128 signals were available.
An intermediate line repeater is placed approximately every 80–100 km to compensate for the loss of optical power as the signal travels along the fiber. The ‘multi-wavelength optical signal’ is amplified by an EDFA, which usually consists of several amplifier stages.
An intermediate optical terminal, or optical add-drop multiplexer. This is a remote amplification site that amplifies the multi-wavelength signal that may have traversed up to 140 km or more before reaching the remote site. Optical diagnostics and telemetry are often extracted or inserted at such a site, to allow for localization of any fiber breaks or signal impairments. In more sophisticated systems (which are no longer point-to-point), several signals out of the multi-wavelength optical signal may be removed and dropped locally.
A DWDM terminal demultiplexer. At the remote site, the terminal de-multiplexer consisting of an optical de-multiplexer and one or more wavelength-converting transponders separates the multi-wavelength optical signal back into individual data signals and outputs them on separate fibers for client-layer systems (such as SONET/SDH). Originally, this de-multiplexing was performed entirely passively, except for some telemetry, as most SONET systems can receive 1,550 nm signals. However, in order to allow for transmission to remote client-layer systems (and to allow for digital domain signal integrity determination) such de-multiplexed signals are usually sent to O/E/O output transponders prior to being relayed to their client-layer systems. Often, the functionality of output transponder has been integrated into that of input transponder, so that most commercial systems have transponders that support bi-directional interfaces on both their 1,550 nm (i.e., internal) side, and external (i.e., client-facing) side. Transponders in some systems supporting 40 GHz nominal operation may also perform forward error correction (FEC) via digital wrapper technology, as described in the ITU-T G.709 standard.
Optical Supervisory Channel (OSC). This is data channel which uses an additional wavelength usually outside the EDFA amplification band (at 1,510 nm, 1,620 nm, 1,310 nm or another proprietary wavelength). The OSC carries information about the multi-wavelength optical signal as well as remote conditions at the optical terminal or EDFA site. It is also normally used for remote software upgrades and user (i.e., network operator) Network Management information. It is the multi-wavelength analogue to SONET’s DCC (or supervisory channel). ITU standards suggest that the OSC should utilize an OC-3 signal structure, though some vendors have opted to use 100 megabit Ethernet or another signal format. Unlike the 1550 nm multi-wavelength signal containing client data, the OSC is always terminated at intermediate amplifier sites, where it receives local information before re-transmission.

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