Nokia chips in to raise optical network capacity limit

Networking vendor Nokia is increasingly starting to look like a chipset company, with its third major chip launch in the past year.

This one is intriguingly called the Photonic Service Engine 3 (PSE-3), because it’s all about pushing optical network capacity to its theoretical limits. If you think that doesn’t sound quite science fiction enough then get a load of this: the PSE-3 chipset is the first coherent digital signal processor to implement probabilistic constellation shaping (PCS).

As you would expect Nokia has been working on PCS for some time, and this chip would seem to be the culmination of its efforts. The technology is designed to push the Shannon Limit, which defines the maximum theoretical capacity of a communications channel. It generates wavelengths that are more resilient to noise thus, claims Nokia, increases capacity by 65% while reducing power by 60%, which seems significant.

“This is a breakthrough in how we can maximize the performance of optical networks and, at the same time, vastly simplify operations,” said Sam Bucci, Head of Optical Networks for Nokia. “The Photonic Service Engine 3 is the culmination of a decade of research and first-hand experience building the largest, highest capacity optical networks in the world.

“By introducing this extreme and yet remarkably simple programmability, our customers can now maximize the capacity of every link in their network, whether that’s 10 km, 10,000 km or beyond. They will be able to keep their costs under control while handling the huge bandwidth demands that video, cloud, and soon 5G will be throwing at them.”

“Spark and Nokia have a proud partnership delivering optical innovation in New Zealand and ensuring our network stays ahead of market demand,” Rajesh Singh, GM Value Management and Procurement, Spark New Zealand. “Building on our 2012 introduction of 100G transport and 200G in 2017, the new Nokia Bell Labs powered PSE-3 technology will allow Spark to plan towards 400G and 1Tb services supporting the significant predicted traffic demands of 5G, video, business services and IoT. We’re very excited about the world leading capability of the Nokia PSE-3 to help us meet those demands and at the same time reducing the cost per transported bit.”

This latest launch, when grouped with last year’s FP4 chip announcement, would appear to be giving Nokia a strong offering in the fixed line market with its own silicon as a significant USP. Looking back at MWC, while Nokia had plenty to say about 5G radio, its single biggest differentiator appears to be its fixed line portfolio, to which this latest announcement is a further contribution.

In other news Igor Leprince, who headed up the Nokia Global Services silo for a while, seems to have paid the price for his unit’s underperformance. Pausing only to hand over the reins to his previous head of sales – Sanjay Goel – Leprince will be updating his LinkedIn profile and pursuing other opportunities at the end of this month.

Assuming a lack of sales was a contributing factor to Leprince’s sudden interest in the broader vocational marketplace, replacing him with the person most responsible for those sales, such as they were, is an intriguing move. But what do we know and we wish Goel all the best.

Nokia uses it silicon secret sauce to make new ReefShark chipsets

Uniquely among major networking vendors Nokia is keen to talk-up its chip design credentials, with the latest lot designed to help base stations get with the 5G programme.

The chipset family is called ReefShark, for some reason. We guess Nokia’s marketing department thought it was time its products got sexier, tougher-sounding names. That seemed to work well for Qualcomm with Snapdragon which, despite being named after a flower, went big on the sinister giant lizard imagery in its marketing.

ReefShark actually consists of three distinct chipsets, so it’s technically a school of ReefSharks (or whatever the collective noun for sharks is – apparently a shiver of sharks is a thing, who knew?) Wikipedia says there are four main varieties of Reef Shark, so there are naming opportunities there too.

One addresses the digital front end for LTE and 5G radio systems supporting massive MIMO, one is a RFIC (Radio Frequency Integrated Circuit) front-end module and transceiver designed to be a massive MIMO adaptive antenna solution. And the last one is a baseband processor with a compute-heavy design, aimed at supporting the massive scale requirements of 5G.

Why do we need special super-duper silicon for all this stuff? 5G of course. The digital front end is the interface between the antenna and transceiver and once 5G turns up will need to do a lot more processing to optimise the signal. The RFIC chip integrates a lot of previously discrete components, much like the SoC in a smartphone, thus generating efficiencies. Ultimately the three chipsets are collectively designed to boost both the performance and efficiency of base stations to support the massively increased scale of 5G.

Henri Tervonen, CTO of Nokia Mobile, was predictably pleased with the new chipset family. “With ReefShark, Nokia has created a clear competitive advantage. Its combination of power, intelligence and efficiency make it ideally suited to be at the heart of fast arriving 5G networks.”

The last big Nokia silicon announcement clearly happened before the shark memo was circulated, resulting in the much more prosaically-named FP4 chipset. But Nokia is doing a good job of differentiating itself from its competitors with all of this silicon talk, and we would imagine that having your own, bespoke chipset is quite a handy USP for its sales team to have at its disposal.

In a separate announcement Nokia talked up its Future X architecture for 5G, which includes all the ReefShark cleverness previously described. It looks like Future X is the broader 5G network brand for Nokia, also encompassing the Full Monty of 5G products and services. In fact here they are:

  • Nokia 5G New Radio
  • Nokia AirScale Radio Access
  • Nokia’s 5G AirScale active antennas
  • Nokia’s 5G Small Cells
  • Nokia 5G Anyhaul
  • Nokia 5G Core
  • Nokia Massive Scale Access
  • 5G Acceleration Services

“With our 5G Future X portfolio we are opening up network data and network intelligence to our customers to jointly program and tailor machine learning and automation that runs on our new silicon,” said Marc Rouanne, president of Mobile Networks at Nokia.

“The Future X architecture invented by our Nokia Bell Labs research has made it possible to mix the knowledge across Nokia, between IP, Optics, RF, software and innovative in-house silicon. We now expect to be able to deliver unprecedented capabilities and efficiencies that will allow our customers to transform their service offering for 5G.”

As you can see from that bullet-list, it takes a lot of parts to make an ‘end-to-end 5G solution’ and Nokia seems to be trying to rationalise that messaging process, which is no laughing matter. We’ll leave you with a video about the new chipsets and a documentary on black tip reef sharks going about their apex predator business.