Forward error correction (FEC) techniques are essential for optical core and optical access networks. In optical core networks, the emphasis is on high coding gains and extremely low output bit error rates, while allowing decoder realizations to operate at a throughput of 100 Gb/s and above. Optical access networks operate at 10 Gb/s or above and require low-complexity FEC codes with low power consumption. Coherent optical transmission with higher order modulation formats will become mandatory to achieve the high spectral efficiencies required in next-generation core networks. In this paper, we provide an overview of these requirements and techniques, and highlight how coding and modulation can be best combined in optical core networks. We also present guidelines for modulation and low-complexity FEC system design for optical access networks. © 2013 Alcatel-Lucent.