PAM4 — The High-Speed Signal Interconnection Technology of Next-Generation Data Center

What Is PAM4?

PAM4 (4-Level Pulse Amplitude Modulation) is one of PAM modulation technologies that uses 4 different signal levels for signal transmission. Each symbol period can represent 2 bits of logic information (0, 1, 2, 3), that is, four levels per unit time.

In the data center and short-distance optical fiber transmission, the modulation scheme of NRZ is still adopted, that is, the high and low signal levels are used to represent the (1, 0) information of the digital logic signal to be transmitted, and one bit of logical information can be transmitted per signal symbol period.

However, as the transmission rate evolves from 28Gb/s to a higher rate, the electrical signal transmission on the backplane will cause more severe loss to the high-frequency signal, and higher-order modulation can transmit more data in the same signal bandwidth. Therefore, the industry is increasingly calling for higher-order PAM4 modulation. The PAM4 signal uses four different signal levels for signal transmission, and each symbol period can represent 2 bits of logical information (0, 1, 2, 3). Since the PAM4 signal can transmit 2 bits of information per symbol period, to achieve the same signal transmission capability, the symbol rate of the PAM4 signal only needs to reach half of the NRZ signal, so the loss caused by the transmission channel is greatly reduced. With the development of future technologies, the possibility of using more levels of PAM8 or even PAM16 signals for information transmission is not ruled out.

What is PAM4 technology

And then, if the optical signal can also be transmitted by using the PAM4, the clock recovery and pre-emphasized PAM4 signal can be directly realized when the electro-optical transmitting is performed inside the optical module, therefore, the unnecessary step of converting the PAM4 signal into the NRZ signal of 2 times the baud rate and then performing related processing is eliminated, thereby saving the chip design cost.

Why PAM4?

The end-to-end transmission system includes fiber optic and fiber-optic transmission systems. Since the fiber transmission can easily reach the rate of 25Gbd so that the research progress of transmitting PAM4 on the fiber has been progressing slowly. For fiber-optic transmission systems, from NRZ moving to PAM4 is considered in terms of cost. If you do not need to consider the cost, there are other related modulation technologies can be used in the long-distance range, such as DP-QPSK, which can transmit the baud rate signal above 50Gbd for several thousand kilometers. However, in the data center field, the transmission distance is generally only 10km or less. If the optical transceiver using PAM4 technology is adopted, the cost can be greatly reduced.

For 400GE, the largest cost is expected to be optical components and related RF packages. PAM4 technology uses four different signal levels for signal transmission. It can transmit 2 bits of logic information per clock cycle and double the transmission bandwidth, thus effectively reducing transmission costs. For example, 50GE is based on a single 25G optical device, and the bandwidth is doubled through the electrical layer PAM4 technology, which effectively solves the problem of high cost while satisfying the bandwidth improvement. The 200GE/400GE adopts 4/8 channel 25G devices, and the bandwidth can be doubled by PAM4 technology.

For data center applications, reducing the application of the device can significantly reduce costs. The initial goal of adopting higher order modulation formats is to place more complex parts on the circuit side to reduce the optical performance requirements. The use of high-order modulation formats is an effective way to reduce the number of optics used, reduce the performance requirements of optics, and achieve a balance between performance, cost, power, and density in different applications.

In some application scenarios, high-order modulation formats have been used for several years on the line side. However, since the client side needs are different from the line side, so other considerations are needed.

For example, on the client side, the main consideration is the test cost, power consumption and density. On the line side, spectrum efficiency and performance are mainly considered, and cost reduction is not the most important consideration. By using linear components on the client side and the PAM4 modulation format that is directly detected, companies can greatly reduce test complexity and thus reduce costs. Among all high-order modulation formats, the lowest cost implementation is PAM4 modulation with a spectral efficiency of 2 bits/s/Hz.

PAM4 transmission technology

 

Conclusion

As a popular signal transmission technology for high-speed signal interconnection in next-generation data centers, PAM4 signals are widely used for electrical and optical signal transmission on 200G/400G interfaces. Gigalight has a first-class R&D team in the industry and has overcome the signal integrity design challenges of PAM4 modulation. Gigalight’s 200G/400G PAM4 products include 200G QSFP56 SR4, 200G QSFP56 AOC, 200G QSFP56 FR4, 400G QSFP56-DD SR8, 400G QSFP56-DD AOC, etc.

All of the PAM4 products from Gigalight can be divided into digital PAM4 products and analog PAM4 products. The digital PAM4 products adopt DSP solutions which can support a variety of complex and efficient modulation schemes. The electric port has strong adaptability and good photoelectric performance. And the analog PAM4 products simulate CDR with low power consumption and low cost. Gigalight always adheres to the concept of innovation, innovative technology, and overcomes difficulties. It invests a lot of human resources and material resources in the research and development of next-generation data center products.

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