NTT Research, a branch of the group’s parent company NTT, announced last week that it will expand the size of its optical research center by 2023.
During its Upgrade 2023 program, the company’s technology user, customer and partner conference in San Francisco, NTT offered a comprehensive view of how it believes networking infrastructure should change. NTT is the master corporate entity in Japan under which its research arm operates.
NTT’s announcement raises the question for tech industry novices who don’t spend their free time lounging around optical research facilities, what exactly does an optical research facility do?
Without going too deep into the technical elements and advanced mathematics involved in this type of research, the potential practical benefits of the work could have a revolutionary impact on network communications technology as we know it.
NTT’s work in this area coincides with the company’s announcement earlier this month that it will begin offering its initial services to corporate customers using next-generation infrastructure based on optical technology. NTT announced in the Upgrade 2023 program that it will charge customers a monthly fee of US$15,000 (about 1.98 million yen) per month through its regional entities, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone East and Nippon Telegraph and Telephone West.
This initiative, known as IOWN (Innovative Optical and Wireless Networks), is a breakthrough new infrastructure system that features “low latency” or dramatically reduces transmission time lag. The result is a 200th of the relevant delay compared to conventional optical communication systems.
In 2019, NTT originated the idea of IOWN, which involves employing optical signals along with a communication line to transmit data from transmitter to destination. NTT expects its IONN services, which it will offer primarily to business customers, will be beneficial for a variety of use cases, including self-driving.
Benefits of the IOWN Initiative
Fiber is the primary means of data transmission for existing optical communications widely employed in everyday residential settings. In the communication path, optical impulses must still be converted into electrical signals and vice versa, resulting in latency or time delay. These delays can be significantly reduced by IOWN, eliminating the need for signal transcoding.
There are many applications that can take advantage of this capability. Self-driving cars, remotely operated robots, digital humans, and remote surgical procedures performed in distant areas can all benefit from the low latency that distinguishes IOWN services.
Digital Human Interaction Technology Showcased at NTT Upgrade 2023
At Upgrade 2023, a compelling demo (pictured above) was featured with a robotic arm being used via controllers to move items in a simulated warehouse setting with tremendous accuracy with virtually zero latency was needed.
To use IOWN services, customers must use special terminal equipment marketed by Nippon Telegraph and Telephone East and Nippon Telegraph and Telephone West.
Low latency is not the only benefit provided by the IOWN initiative. The IOWN project aims to achieve lower power consumption with a 100-fold improvement in power efficiency and a 125-fold improvement in transmission capacity over current optical communication systems.
NTT is making a huge commitment to IOWN because it believes its revolutionary benefits will disrupt the networking infrastructure space. In the coming years, NTT will work to create terminal equipment and communications technology specific to achieving those goals. NTT anticipates the implementation of the entire ioOne plan in the 2030 time frame.
Partners build credibility for IOWN initiative
The IOWN initiative now includes many well-known businesses inside and outside Japan. As NTT wants IOWN to attract as wide international support as possible, a worldwide forum has been created to evaluate the requirements and other technical specifications of IOWN.
Earlier this month, KDDI Corporation, another major Japanese telecommunications company, was announced by NTT as a new member of the International Forum. The company is looking to collaborate with competing businesses to facilitate rapid expansion of the IOWN platform.
NTT has also confirmed that it has created a prototype chip that it hopes could one day significantly increase data transmission rates in data centers and undersea fiber optic cables.
According to NTT, its all-new, miniaturized baseband amplifier integrated circuit module provides ultra-broadband performance of 100 GHz. It will be used with emerging all-photonics network technologies, such as future 6G networks and IOWN infrastructure. According to NTT, this aspect is a critical component of those future networks, as they will require ultra-broadband signal amplification capabilities to remove all noise distortion.
IOWN core optical networks will be capable of transmitting data at rates of more than two terabits per second; However, they require a baseband amplifier IC module to amplify the signal. NTT had previously made products that could accomplish this, but they were all large and required connections to external data center block piece products. NTT has now created a prototype of its module that is small enough to fit into any device.
Although the device will not be commercially available for several years, NTT claims it can amplify 100 GHz electrical signals, a dramatic improvement over what is possible with today’s technology. NTT believes the advancement will eventually increase data center connection speeds and accelerate customer Internet access.
Although NTT is not a widely known company outside Japan, the 150-yard company has a cultural propensity for asking questions about the future. With its IOWN initiative, it is challenging the industry to radically rethink the computer needs of the future 25 years from now.
It’s clear that for NTT, photonic optical technology is where Puck is going to optimize the transport of data. My recent interview with Vito Mabruko, Global Chief Marketing Officer of NTT, underscores the company’s commitment to photonics:
It will be helpful to remember that much of technology today relies on electronics to transmit and analyze information. In the post-Moore’s Law era, NTT is making bold moves to push the tech industry to consider how it can scale computing power without some of the transistor development techniques that have proliferated over the past fifty years. From NTT’s perspective, photonics holds the promise of accelerating data transmission speeds, increasing machine responsiveness, and using significantly less energy.
Furthermore, the state of this technology centers around the transition from electronics to photonics. This is the basis in the cellular market as 6G will eventually eclipse 5G to enable future internet and cloud usage models (something not even considered). It will be possible to collect massive amounts of data with near-zero latency in an environment with specialized photonics-based processors that can switch workloads autonomously.
Of course, it will take time and significant investment dollars to realize a fully active IOWN-based world. Typically, new technological advances come at the cost of performance or energy usage trade-offs, but this does not seem to be the case with IOWN. The payoff will be a new game-changing networking topology that could improve how people access all kinds of information and how society functions.
Even at that ambitious level, NTT deserves credit for articulating a bold, new network infrastructure vision that transforms the nature of computing.