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Sambo et al.


Routing, Code, and Spectrum

Assignment, Subcarrier Spacing,
and Filter Configuration in Elastic
Optical Networks [Invited]
N. Sambo, G. Meloni, F. Cugini, F. Fresi, A. DErrico, L. Pot, P. Iovanna, and P. Castoldi

AbstractIn elastic optical networks (EONs), the modulation format can be configured to guarantee the required
optical reach with efficient spectrum utilization. For this
reason, the literature related to EONs has treated the problem of routing and spectrum assignment together with the
problem of modulation format assignment. Recently, in addition to modulation format, code adaptation has also been
successfully demonstrated to provide adequate spectrum
utilization given a target optical reach. This paper presents
the concept of routing, code, and spectrum assignment
(RCSA) for EONs. We propose the optimization of multiple
transmission parameters including code, subcarrier spacing, and filters passband to avoid detrimental filtering
effects. Measurements are carried out in an EON testbed
to identify the relation between transmission parameters
and the number of traversed filters and optical reach.
Then, the measurements are used as inputs in simulations
to test RCSA. The simulations show that code adaptation
reduces blocking probability with respect to format adaptation. Another interesting result shows that the use of
several possibilities for the transmission parameter setting
may induce high spectrum fragmentation.
Index TermsCode; EON; Flex-grid; RCSA; RSA.


lastic optical networks (EONs) or flex-grid optical

networks may leverage distance adaptive transmission techniques that are able to guarantee the required
optical reach to achieve a proper spectral efficiency (i.e.,
the net rate transmitted over a unit of bandwidth).
Typically, distance adaptation has been obtained in the literature by relying on different modulation formats [13].
This technique may require transponders able to support several modulation formats such as polarizationmultiplexing quadrature phase-shift keying (PM-QPSK)
and polarization-multiplexing 16 quadrature amplitude
Manuscript received June 15, 2015; revised August 3, 2015; accepted
September 7, 2015; published October 14, 2015 (Doc. ID 243137).
N. Sambo (e-mail:, F. Fresi, and P. Castoldi are
with Scuola Superiore SantAnna, Via G. Moruzzi 1, 56124 Pisa, Italy.
G. Meloni, F. Cugini, and L. Pot are with CNIT, Via G. Moruzzi 1, 56124
Pisa, Italy.
A. DErrico and P. Iovanna are with Ericsson, Via G. Moruzzi 1, 56124
Pisa, Italy.


modulation (PM-16QAM). However, a transponder supporting both PM-QPSK and PM-16QAM can be more expensive than a transponder supporting only PM-QPSK.
Indeed, a transponder supporting multilevel modulation
formats such as PM-16QAM typically requires a digitalto-analog converter (DAC), while a DAC can be avoided
if only a single-level modulation format such as PMQPSK is supported [4]. Recently, distance adaptation
through code adaptation has been proposed [59]. An example is the time-frequency packing (TFP) transmission
technique, which is also capable of achieving very high
spectral efficiency (e.g., higher than 6 bits/s/Hz with PMQPSK) [5,10,11]. In particular, code redundancy is tuned
based on the optical reach (the larger the length, the
greater the redundancy). Code adaptation can be applied
with a transponder supporting a single modulation format
(e.g., PM-QPSK) [5]. Thus, code adaptation may provide
distance adaptation with the use of either single or multiple modulation formats. In other words, given a selected
modulation format, code adaptation provides high flexibility for achieving a given optical reach while minimizing the
occupied bandwidth [12].
The code drives the occupied bandwidth by an optical
connection, and thus it impacts on the spectrum assignment (SA) or on the routing and spectrum assignment
(RSA). Works on RSA have been done and are available
in the literature, considering both planning and dynamic
online RSA. Regarding planning, several integer linear
programming formulations or heuristics have been proposed to solve the RSA problem [1321]. Concerning
dynamic RSA, the authors of [22] proposed an RSA based
on least-congested routing and proposing a first-fit/last-fit
spectrum allocation, studied under varying grid spacing.
The authors of [23] proposed heuristics, including quality
of transmission (QoT) constraints. Other works (e.g., [24])
were focused on mitigating the spectrum fragmentation issue in online RSA, which creates suboptimal spectrum utilization, preventing the establishment of new connections.
The concept of modulation format assignment has been included in the RSA procedure [13], resulting in the routing,
modulation format, and spectrum assignment procedure
[25,26]. The authors of [8] propose an adaptive forwarderror-correction strategy considering static traffic. More
2015 Optical Society of America


effort is required in the field of RSA in the area of code

This paper presents the concept of incorporating code assignment into RSA, proposing routing, code, and spectrum
assignment (RCSA). Moreover, other transmission parameters, such as the subcarrier spacing, are optimized and
assigned. In particular, given a connection request at a
specific net rate, the code is identified for connecting the
sourcedestination pair according to the available paths.
Then, the number of subcarriers is computed to satisfy
the requested net rate. The spacing among the subcarriers
is identified considering inter-channel effects (e.g., cross
talk) and filters, and then the bandwidth of the connection
is also computed, considering filtering effects. Finally, RSA
is accomplished.
An experimental testbed based on a recirculating loop is
used to find the relations among transmission parameters
(path, code, subcarrier spacing) when varying the alloptical reach and the number of traversed filters. The measurements on the testbed are then used in simulations to
evaluate RCSA in a network environment. Simulation
results show the benefits of code adaptation in terms of
blocking probability with respect to a modulation-format
distance-adaptive Nyquist wavelength-division multiplexing (NWDM) technique (including PM-QPSK, PM-8QAM,
and PM-16QAM). Code-adaptive transmission is able to reduce blocking by more than one order of magnitude with
respect to modulation-format adaptive NWDM. Finally,
the results also show some impact on spectrum fragmentation. Indeed, the use of several transmission parameters
configurations even in a single-rate network (at 1 Tbit/s)
implies lightpaths with many different bandwidth granularities. This may cause high spectrum fragmentation, and
thus proper transmission parameter configurations have to
be found while also accounting for spectrum fragmentation.




This section introduces the concept of code-adaptive

transmission and summarizes the TFP technique. Code
adaptation can be seen as a technique where coding (or
overhead) is tuned based on the characteristics of the
physical layer. It can be applied to several types of transmission, such as NWDM and TFP. Given an optical
channel, we can make the following classification:
Constant net rate: The transponder card is dimensioned
with a baud rate supporting a given net rate and the
maximum selectable overhead. If the card works at a
lower overhead, the maximum baud rate is not used.
Constant baud rate: The card always works at the maximum baud rate independently from the overhead. This
way, the net rate is affected by the used overhead or coding: the larger the redundancy, the lower the net rate.
Currently, 100 Gbit/s cards working at a constant net
rate and supporting multiple forward error correction
(FEC) types are commercially available [27]. In particular,

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two values of baud rate are supported: 27.952 and

31.241 Gbaud. The considered card can be adapted to
the physical layer as follows. About 20% FEC (implying
31.241 Gbaud) can be used for the long haul, while a proprietary 7% FEC (implying 27.952 Gbaud) is specifically
indicated when the 100 Gbit/s channel passes through a
large number of reconfigurable optical adddrop multiplexer nodes with limited passband filter performance. A
net rate of 100 Gbits/s is always guaranteed.
If a card works at the maximum baud rate, the overhead
or coding affects the net rate. Thus, in this case, the requested net rate may not be met for some values of overhead or coding and an additional carrier should be set
up. This approach has been followed in [5], demonstrating
a Tbit/s-based superchannel. In this case, each subcarrier
has been obtained through the maximum baud rate
(40 Gbaud), achieving a gross rate of 160 Gbits/s. Code redundancy is tuned based on the optical reach to achieve,
and consequently the net rate depends on the redundancy.
To keep the overall net superchannel rate constant at
1 Tbit/s, the number of superchannel subcarriers is selected according to the resulting net subcarrier rate. As
an example, in [5], 3000 km can be reached with an overhead of 11% and seven subcarriers, while 4000 km requires
a 20% overhead and eight subcarriers.
In this paper, we use as a reference code adaptation at a
constant baud rate, where the number of subcarriers is selected to meet the requested net rate considering the selected code rate (or overhead). In particular, we refer to
TFP, which is briefly summarized here. TFP consists of
sending pulses that strongly overlap in time or frequency
or both to maximize spectral efficiency, while introducing
intersymbol interference (ISI) and/or intercarrier interference [5,10,11]. Coding [low-density parity-check (LDPC)
code] and detection are properly designed to account for
that [10]. The LDPC code rate is properly selected based
on the physical characteristics of the path. The receiver
of each subcarrier uses coherent detection with digital
signal processing (DSP). Given the introduced ISI, TFP
requires a receiver based on sequence detection, such as
the well-known BahlCockeJelinekRaviv detector, which
exchanges information with an LDPC decoder [10].
TFP typically uses PM-QPSK and allows higher spectral
efficiency [5,10] with respect to NWDM PM-QPSK
(e.g., 6 bits/s/Hz, while the maximum spectral efficiency of
NWDM PM-QPSK is 4 bits/s/Hz). As a counterpart, TFP requires a sequence detector because of the ISI introduced,
while NWDM requires a simpler symbol-by-symbol detector.
However, current implementations of TFP have avoided a
DAC, while NWDM typically requires a DAC, e.g., for preemphasis [28]. Finally, some considerations regarding the
number of required lasers and modulators are reported.
Comparing TFP and NWDM with the same baud rate, TFP
and NWDM require the same number of lasers and modulators if PM-QPSK is adopted for both. NWDM can reduce the
number of lasers/modulators if a higher-order format is
used; for example, given that with the same baud rate,
PM-16QAM doubles the bit rate with respect to PM-QPSK,
NWDM PM-16QAM halves the number of laser/modulators

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with respect to TFP PM-QPSK. However, we believe that

also because of the prospects of photonics integration, the
transponder costs will be mainly driven by the DAC and
DSP. The reader can refer to [29] for an experimental comparison of NWDM PM-16QAM and TFP PM-QPSK.


Consider a lightpath at net rate R transmitted on a
superchannel consisting of a number N of optical subcarriers (the case of single-carrier transmission is valid considering N  1). A single modulation format is assumed
(e.g., PM-QPSK). The code rate (i.e., redundancy) affects
the ability to correctly receive the information transmitted
over an all-optical path, also traversing a certain number of
nodes and, thus, optical filters [such as spectrum-selective
switches (SSSs)]. A set of code rates c  f b can be used,
where b f bits of code are transmitted each f bits of information. The higher the c value, the less redundant the
code. It is assumed that the subcarrier baud rate is fixed
by the electronics. This imposes a maximum gross rate
Ri transmitted per subcarrier. This rate includes information and coding. Consequently, based on the selected code c,
the number of subcarriers has to be selected in order to
satisfy the requested net rate R.
Algorithm 1 shows the structure of the proposed RCSA
and the assignment of the other transmission parameters.
After the connection is requested between nodes s, d at a
net rate R, a set of k paths is computed between s and d
(STEP 1). The highest code rate c (i.e., less redundant code)
satisfying QoT on at least one path within the k paths is
selected (STEP 2). A less redundant code is preferred to
save bandwidth, but the QoT of the k paths has to be
checked considering the selected code. Indeed, the code
rate affects the ability to correctly detect a signal affected
by physical layer impairments, such as noise and fiber nonlinear effects, and the set of k paths may include routes
with many different physical characteristics. Typically,
longer paths are affected by more noise and nonlinear impairments, and thus more redundancy is needed than for
shorter paths. The assessment of a code in its ability to
guarantee an acceptable QoT on a specific path may rely
on a model (e.g., as in [12]) or on measurements. In this
paper, we rely on an empirical model based on measurements. In Section IV, we will present a relation between
code rate values, the achievable optical reach, and the
number of traversed filters such that error-free transmission is guaranteed. This relation has been derived through
a real transmission in an experimental testbed.
Algorithm 1 RCSA (s, d, R)
STEP 1: consider a set of k pre-computed paths between
s, d;
STEP 2: consider the less redundant code rate c satisfying
QoT on at least one path of the k paths;
STEP 3: consider the set P composed of paths within the k
paths that are acceptable with c;
STEP 4: compute N satisfying R considering c;


STEP 5: perform routing within the set P;

STEP 6: compute the lowest subcarrier spacing satisfying QoT;
STEP 7: compute ITU-T parameter m considering filtering
effects and the overall superchannel bandwidth;
STEP 8: perform spectrum assignment;
if Spectrum is available then
connection can be set up;
remove the considered path from P;
if at least a path is available then
go to STEP 5;
end if
if no more path is available but a lower c is available then
consider the new code rate and go to STEP 3;
end if
if no more path is available and a lower c is unavailable then
block the connection;
end if
end if
Then, a new set P of paths obtained by removing, from
the k paths, all the paths not satisfying the QoT with c is
considered (STEP 3). The number N of subcarriers is computed considering that R  N Ri c (STEP 4). Then,
routing is performed considering the set P (STEP 5): a path
is selected among the set of acceptable paths considering
the chosen code (e.g., the least congested path). Then,
subcarrier spacing S is selected (STEP 6), satisfying the
QoT (see next section). Consequently, the bandwidth occupied by the superchannel can be identified. The superchannel bandwidth imposes the width of the International
Telecommunication Union Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU-T) flex-grid slot to switch the superchannel, defined as m 12.5 GHz [30]. In particular, the
computation of the width, and thus of m, has to account
for the superchannel bandwidth (the width must be larger
or at least equal to it) and has to account for filtering effects
(STEP 7). Indeed, because of the nonideal flat passband of
the SSSs, the width could not be selected to be a value too
close to the superchannel bandwidth, since the filter transition bands may introduce distortions on the transmitted
signal, and in particular on the two side subcarriers [5,31].
Thus, m may need to be overdimensioned. Once c, N, S, and
m are computed, SA is performed (e.g., first fitSTEP 8).
Then a connection is set up. In the case where a spectrum
with width m satisfying the continuity constraint is not
found, another path can be considered. Otherwise, a more
redundant code can also be assumed. This results in the
possibility of considering for RSA a larger set of paths
within the k paths, thus increasing the probability of
establishing the connection. If no more code rates can be
considered, the connection is blocked.


Measurements are performed on the experimental
testbed shown in Fig. 1 to identify the relations between


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Fig. 1. Experimental testbed.

the following transmission parameters: optical reach,

traversed filters, code rate, subcarrier spacing S, and slot
width m, to guarantee error-free transmission at a 1 Tbit/s
net rate. Several configurations of code rate, subcarrier
spacing, and parameter m have been assessed, with the
aim of ensuring error-free 1 Tbit/s transmission during a
real transmission in the experimental testbed, as a function of the reach and of the number of traversed filters.
Finally, the highest performing parameters have been reported associated with the reach and the number of traversed filters: the least redundant code, the smallest
subcarrier spacing, and the smallest m ensuring error-free
transmission for the given path. TFP is used as in [5] to
filter subcarriers beyond the Nyquist limit, thus achieving
high spectral efficiency. TFP uses LDPC code. N optical carriers are generated by means of 100 kHz linewidth tunable
laser sources (ECLs) and multiplexed with optical combiner (OC). The odd and even channels are modulated separately by means of two integrated double-nested Mach
Zehnder modulators. 40 Gbit/s LDPC-coded electrical signals are applied to the in-phase (I) and the quadrature (Q)
ports of the modulators. This way, 80 Gbit/s QPSK channels
are obtained. The gross rate Ri is then further doubled to
160 Gbits/s per channel by emulating polarization multiplexing through a 50/50 beam splitter, an optical delay,
and a polarization beam combiner (PBC). Thus, in this experiment, the gross rate Ri of each subcarrier is fixed.
Electrical ninth-order 10 GHz low-pass filters (LPFs) are
used in order to limit the subcarriers bandwidth and allow
a minimum subcarrier spacing of 20 GHz. This way a spectral occupation lower than the Nyquist bandwidth is obtained. A simple OC is used as a multiplexer for the odd
and the even channels. A recirculating loop structure is
used in order to emulate the signal transmission along different network nodes. The recirculating loop is composed of
a Finisar SSS and two 80 km long standard single-mode
fiber spools, each one followed by an erbium-doped fiber
amplifier. A gain-equalized filter (GEF) is used in order to
balance the distortions due to the amplifier profile, and a

polarization scrambler (POL-S) is included in the loop, emulating random signal polarization variation. The Finisar
SSS emulates intermediate nodes. It is assumed to be a
broadcast-and-select node architecture [9], so traversing a
node implies a single filter stage, as in each loop. Coherent
detection at the receiver (RX), including local oscillator
(LOi), digital signal processing (DSP) with LDPC decoding,
as in [5], is applied with offline processing.
Table I shows the relation between the code rate, the optical reach, the number of traversed nodes (thus including
filtering), N, S, and m. Reported values satisfy error-free
transmission after LDPC decoding for all the subcarriers.
Measurements show that the slot width increases with the
optical reach and the number of traversed filters. This is
due to a combination of different factors. First, the increase
in the optical reach or the number of traversed filters may
require the use of a more robust code. This implies an increase in the number of subcarriers needed to satisfy the
net rate of 1 Tbit/s, and thus in the occupied bandwidth.
Second, with an increase of the number of traversed filters,
filtering effects become more detrimental, driving the
enlargement of filters to provide the passband in a more
flat region [5,31]. As an example, the use of c  45 implies
N  8 to guarantee the net rate. With such a code rate and












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m  15, a three-hop path with a length of 480 km is guaranteed with error-free transmission. A more robust code,
c  34 (implying N  9), and m  17 enable a path of
six hops and around 1000 km. Decreasing the value of m
with respect to the values reported in the table would cause
unacceptable filtering effects that would not guarantee
error-free transmission.
Another parameter reported in Table I is the subcarrier
spacing S. This parameter also has an important effect on
the QoT of the superchannel as well as on the spectral efficiency, and a proper trade-off should be found. As stated
earlier, subcarriers are electrically filtered at 10 GHz in the
base band, and thus with ideal filtering, channel spacing
could be 20 GHz in the optical domain. However, through
measurements, given the nonrectangular shape of the
electrical filters, S  20 GHz would cause an unacceptable
intercarrier interference, strongly degrading the superchannel QoT. Thus, S should be selected with a higher value.
S has been tested in the testbed with values in the range of
[20;24] GHz. Setting S to a low value is preferable in terms
of an occupied spectrum; however, intercarrier interference
may result in an unacceptable QoT. Setting S to a higher
value may also result in an unacceptable QoT, because although intercarrier interference would be reduced, external
subcarriers (i.e., the ones close to the transition bandwidth of
the SSS filters) may be cut. As an example, for a path of three
hops and 480 km, S has been set to 22 GHz. Figure 2 shows
the spectrum of the superchannel before the receiver with
S  21, S  22, and S  23 GHz. With S  21 GHz, subcarriers are more packed; however, error-free transmission is
not guaranteed. With S  23 GHz, error-free transmission
is not experienced due to the fact that external subcarriers
are cut by the optical filter SSS profile.





Slot Width






signal-to-noise ratio. For this reason, by comparing the

two loops and fixing the optical reach, the loop of [32]
achieves better performance (e.g., to obtain 320 km, a
150 GHz slot width is enough, instead of 175 GHz).
Indeed, placing an amplifier after 40 km of fiber permits
us to achieve a better optical signal-to-noise ratio performance, thus being more robust to filtering effects. On
the other hand, placing an amplifier after 80 km of fiber
may permit us to reduce the number of amplifiers in the
network. In this paper we refer to the measurements of
Table I, because 80 km for the span length is a typical value
adopted in real backbone networks.


We also compare measurements reported in Table I with

measurements carried out in [32] and reported here in
Table II. The two experiments differ in the recirculating
loop configuration. In [32], the recirculating loop was based
on fiber spans of 40 km, each one separated by an optical
amplifier. In the experiment related to Table I, the recirculating loop is based on 80 km spans, each one separated by
an optical amplifier. The span length (i.e., the distance between amplifiers) affects the QoT, and, typically, a smaller
distance between amplifiers guarantees a higher optical

A custom-built event-driven C++ simulator has been

used to study connection blocking probability (i.e., the ratio
between the number of blocked connection requests and
the number of connection requests) in a network environment. Blocking occurs as in Algorithm 1. The Spanish network topology with 30 nodes and 55 bidirectional links
shown in Fig. 3 and detailed in [33] is considered. Codeadaptive TFP transmission at a 1 Tbit/s net rate is assumed. Code-adaptive TFP transmission is compared with
format-adaptive NWDM transmission [34] considering up
to three modulation formats: PM-QPSK, PM-8QAM, and
PM-16QAM. The all-optical reach of PM-16QAM, PM8QAM, and PM-QPSK is provided in [34], and it is 270,
630, and 1890 km, respectively. From the same paper,
we derived m, which is 12, 16, and 23 for PM-16QAM,

Fig. 2. Superchannel spectrum with varying S values.

Fig. 3. Spanish network topology considered in the simulations.


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Fig. 4. Blocking versus offered network load when code adaptation is applied.

Fig. 5. Blocking versus offered network load when formatadaptive Nyquist transmission uses PM-16QAM and PM-QPSK.

PM-8QAM, and PM-QPSK, respectively, but we have to

consider that the model in [34] does not account for filtering
effects. The interarrival process of 1 Tbit/s requests is
Poissonian. The holding time follows a negative exponential distribution, with requests uniformly distributed
among all node pairs. The set of k paths is composed of
all the paths within one hop from the shortest path in
terms of hops.

slices of 12.5 GHz for NWDM in order to avoid detrimental

filtering effects. In particular, simulations are reported assuming that m is incremented by 0, 1, or 2 in the case of
format-adaptive NWDM (e.g., for PM-16QAM we assumed
m  12, m  13, or m  14). TFP is able to reduce blocking
probability with respect to format-adaptive NWDM. The
blocking of format-adaptive NWDM increases when additional slices are considered for filtering effects, because
more of the spectrum is consumed. Note that with NWDM,
at least one additional slice should be considered for each
PM-QPSK and PM-16QAM to avoid filtering effects. Codeadaptive TFP reduces blocking with respect to NWDM at
least by one order of magnitude at a load of 150 Erlangs.

A first result reported in this paper is related to spectrum fragmentation [35]. In particular, transmission
characteristics of code-adaptive TFP shown in Table I enable up to six possibilities for transmission parameter setting, resulting in a different optical reach and spectrum
occupancy. Thus, six different transmission parameter
settings imply six different m values, even considering a
single rate of 1 Tbit/s. To show the effect on spectrum fragmentation, Fig. 4 reports the blocking probability versus
network load when code-adaptive transmission uses the
six possible configurations of Table I or a subset of them
as shown in Table III. Although six types of parameter settings offer more granularity than three types and, in theory,
should offer more possibilities for optimizing the reach and
the occupied spectrum, three settings achieve less blocking
than six settings. This is due to the more fragmented spectrum experienced when six slot width values can be selected.
For this reason, in the next simulations, code-adaptive TFP
refers to the transmission settings in Table III.

Figure 6 shows the comparison between code-adaptive

TFP and format-adaptive NWDM with PM-16QAM, PM8QAM, and PM-QPSK. Using PM-8QAM provides benefits
to format adaptation, since PM-8QAM achieves larger distances than PM-16QAM and it is more spectrally efficient
than PM-QPSK. As in Fig. 5, additional slices are considered against filtering effects with NWDM. Code-adaptive
TFP still achieves a lower blocking probability than
format-adaptive NWDM.

Figure 5 shows the comparison between code-adaptive

TFP and format-adaptive NWDM when the latter uses
PM-16QAM and PM-QPSK. Given that the model in [34]
does not account for filtering effects while values in
Table III do, for a fair comparison, we considered additional

Reach [km]


S [GHz]

Slot Width







Fig. 6. Blocking versus offered network load when formatadaptive Nyquist transmission uses PM-16QAM, PM-8QAM, and

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RCSA has been investigated in this paper. RCSA, the optimization of subcarrier spacing, and filter configuration
are designed with the aim of achieving high spectral
efficiency while guaranteeing QoT, also accounting for detrimental filtering effects. Measurements have been performed in an EON testbed based on a recirculating loop
to identify the relation between transmission parameters
and number of traversed filters and optical reach. Then,
measurements have been used as inputs in simulations
to test RCSA. Simulations have shown that code adaptation based on PM-QPSK TFP reduces blocking probability
with respect to format adaptation based on NWDM.
Simulations have also shown that the use of several possibilities for the transmission parameter settings, if used
with different values of the ITU-T parameter m, may induce high spectrum fragmentation. Future studies can investigate QoT models for code-adaptive transmission
considering different rates and modulation formats, network design of code-adaptive EONs with offline integer
linear programming or heuristics, and multirate codeadaptive EONs.

This work was supported by the FP-7 IDEALIST Project
under grant 317999. This paper is an extended version
of the work presented in [32].

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