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Janet Jackel
North-C Technologies
Holmdel, NJ 07733
It is now generally understood that optical fiber provides benefits for onboard communications on
aircraft and other mobile platforms. The bandwidth capacity of fiber is immense, and even with the ne-
cessary auxiliary components, fiber provides the weight savings that are particularly critical on aircraft.
In addition, the physical flexibility of fiber makes it easier to route through the cramped spaces that are
typical of this environment. However, simple point-to-point connections do not take full advantage of the
potential of this communications medium. Wavelength-division multiplexing (WDM) and reconfigurable
optical networking, where paths can be switched on demand in order to provide protection or to reconfi-
gure functionalities, creates even greater benefits. In this talk we will look at some of those benefits, the
additional costs of networking, and some of the progress that has been made in the past few years.
Some benefits and some costs in introducing optical networking
Two notable advantages of optical networking are the weight-per-bit savings and the ease with
which optical networks can be reconfigured, and each has immediate value as well as added value in the
Lower weight is always needed, and if networks provide nothing else they will still be desirable.
The weight savings of point to point optical links can be greatly increased in situations where multiple
links have at least some of their path in common if the fiber can be shared, so long as the weight of the
additional components required for sharing does not exceed the fiber weight savings. When, in addition,
WDM links and networks are built, each wavelength functions effectively as an additional fiber, with no
added fiber weight. However, the components used to combine and separate wavelengths will add
weight. Furthermore, there will be costs to producing the required well defined wavelengths, and to man-
aging this more complex network. The value of introducing WDM networks will depend on network to-
pology: the length of paths and the extent to which multiple paths can be routed in parallel will determine
the weight savings, if any. Only a detailed look at the intended use will determine whether and where
such networks should be deployed.
Networks will also benefit from the rapid reconfiguration that optical networking can provide. An
immediate use is to provide protection against failures, by making it possible to reroute around damaged
areas. In the future it can also allow upgrade or modification of connectivity without the need to replace
infrastructure. This insurance against future demands can come from the addition of new wavelengths, or
from the reconfiguration of the network to allow new components to be added without the need to rebuild
the underlying infrastructure. To the extent that onboard communications can be upgraded in this way,
the aircraft spends less time out of service, which can lead to significant savings in the lifetime cost of the
aircraft. On the negative side, there will be up-front costs, in weight, as well as dollars, if a network is
built today to accommodate expected future needs.
Progress in developing onboard networking
Much of the progress in this area has been reported at this conference over the past few years. Con-
siderable progress has been made in fiber, cables, and connectors. Optical devices such as lasers, are be-
ing designed specifically to meet the requirements of onboard use, and integrated photonics components,
which provide multiple functionalities on a single chip, are also being designed for this use. Network de-
signs for avionics will not be the same as for telecom or data centers, and designs that meet the needs of
on-board communications are being explored in detail. These advances are supported to a great extent by
simulation and modeling and by dedicated optical and hybrid testbeds. Finally, the development of stan-
dards for this application will be critical to its adoption. For example WDM LAN standards are being
9:15 AM 9:45 AM
TuA3 (Invited)
978-1-4244-7345-8/11/$26.00 2011 IEEE
developed by SAEs Subcommittee on Fiber Optics and Applied Photonics within the Technical Commit-
tee on Aerospace Avionic Systems.
Fiber and cable
We have seen significant improvements in the fiber and cable itself, for example in the ability of fiber to
negotiate sharp bends, and of connectors to maintain low loss in this difficult environment. Single mode
fiber (SMF) connectors designed for on-board applications are now available commercially. SMF con-
nectors still suffer greater loss than those designed for multimode fiber, but performance has improved.
The components required for onboard networking may be based on those developed for telecom applica-
tions, but at the same time they need to meet different requirements. For example multiwavelength or
tunable wavelength lasers, are needed for WDM networks. In telecom these are typically tunable in wa-
velength, but accurate and stable wavelength settings are difficult to achieve where the ambient tempera-
ture range is large. For on-board applications, wavelength selectable components may have advantages
over wavelength tunable ones, and such components are being built and tested. In addition, it is recog-
nized that the integration of multiple functions on the same substrate has advantages including reduced
weight and connection loss; the smaller number of fiber connections reduce the overall probability of
Network design
Onboard networks need to take into account many unique constraints imposed by the platform: topology,
need to conserve weight and power, concerns about reliability and component stability in the demanding
environment. For these reasons, many new network designs are being explored. Some are completely
passive while others make use of optical switching; some locate all tunable components in a small number
of places in order to concentrate the need for powering and environmental control. Network design is still
evolving and will clearly be somewhat different than the designs used in other applications.
Simulation and modeling
Given the need to have networks that can be upgraded over long lifetimes, there needs to be a means
of exploring how different architectures and choices of components will perform in future applications.
Simulation and modeling are necessary tools for exploring performance as networks are called upon to
support greater bandwidth, more heterogeneous traffic, and rapid reconfiguration, in many cases beyond
what it is possible to build today. These tools allow many what if scenarios to be explored and make it
possible to consider networks supporting traffic well beyond what is economical to test in the laboratory.
They can also be used to develop requirements; since they allow evaluation of performance with different
device parameters, for example, they can provide a basis both for specifying performance that is adequate
to support the needs of the network and avoid specifying more difficult-to-achieve and uneconomical per-
formance levels.
While simulation is a critical tool in designing and evaluating potential network performance, noth-
ing is a substitute for the testbed, in which portions of a network can be built and tested, where the per-
formance of specific components can be evaluated in the target network, and where simulation can be
validated. A number of such testbeds have been reported and some will be discussed in this talk. Net-
work management is an important part of testbeds and appears to have been receiving more attention re-
This talk will review some of the reasons for the interest in multi-wavelength reconfigurable optical
networks for aerospace platform applications and the progress that has been made towards their realiza-
I am grateful for the advice, wisdom, and hard work of my Telcordia colleague Sarry Habiby.