Why did Microsoft just buy a fiber optic cable company? • The registry

Big cloud providers and hyperscalers are making significant efforts to secure technological advantages over their rivals, and Microsoft made such a move last week by acquiring fiber optic cable maker Lumenisity.

Acquiring a cable manufacturer is less obviously beneficial than AWS building its own Arm CPUs or Google’s Tensor processing unit.

Lumenisity’s purchase is about reducing latency, an issue the acquired company is addressing with hollow-core fiber (HCF) cables, which can reduce the time it takes to move data between cloud data centers.

Lumenisity’s HCF cables, which were spun off from the University of Southampton’s Optoelectronics Research Center in 2017, are designed to transport laser light using air instead of the fused silica used in something like Corning’s SMF-28.

While we consider the speed of light to be fixed, it can vary depending on the medium through which it travels. As a reference light, fiber travels at approximately 200 million meters per second compared to 300 million meters per second through air. According to Lumenisity, this means that light travels about 47 percent faster through HCF than through silica fiber.

This was announced by Dell’Oro analyst Jimmy Yu The registry important because it helps improve network performance. “I can extend my range for the same latency or shorten the time overall,” he said.

To that end, Lumenisity says its cables can sustain the same latency at 90 kilometers as fiber at 60 km.

And while modern fiber optic cables are incredibly precise, imperfections in the glass and cable jacket can introduce losses that require expensive and latency-prone amplifiers or repeaters to correct. If Lumenisity technology helps Microsoft achieve ultra-low-loss HCF over long distances, as the software giant hopes, the savings associated with eliminating or using fewer repeaters would be significant, Yu says.

While fiber is used for everything from connecting individual servers to switches, zones to zones, and regions to regions, the latency introduced by optical cables typically only makes a significant difference over longer geographic distances.

Therefore, Microsoft’s interest in HCF cables is likely centered on Datacenter Interconnect (DCI).

The fact that Lumenisity’s HCF single-mode cables are designed for Wave Division Multiplexing (WDM), a technology used predominantly in telecom line systems and DCI, seems to support this. While your typical pluggable optics may carry a single signal, WDM-enabled optics allow for much higher aggregate bandwidths by multiplexing multiple signals onto the fiber.

Compared to fiber, Lumenisity claims its HCF cables can carry more WDM channels, thereby achieving higher capacity per strand. However, this larger capacity seems to come at the expense of range. The company claims an attenuation rate – signal loss – of 2.5 dB per kilometer for wavelengths of 1310 nm. For comparison, Corning’s SMF-28, which is commonly used in long-haul networks, manages 0.32 dB/km.

Lumenisity fiber optics require no special termination equipment and work with many of the optics used in telecom networks today, including those from Ciena and Infinera.

While Microsoft did not disclose the terms of the transaction, the acquisition came just over a week after Lumenisity completed construction of a 40,000-square-foot HCF manufacturing facility in Romsey, UK.

Microsoft declined to comment on the acquisition except with a blog post. ®

https://www.theregister.com/2022/12/13/microsoft_acquires_lumenisity/ Why did Microsoft just buy a fiber optic cable company? • The registry

Rick Schindler

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