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Industry heavyweights collaborate on all-photonics network for pervasive computing

05 Nov 2019

Intel, Sony, and NTT establish a new 'innovation forum' targeting 100-fold improvements to traditional optical networks.

Three of the world's biggest technology companies are joining forces in a bid to revolutionize computing and communications networks, with photonics set to play an instrumental role.

Intel, Sony, and NTT (Nippon Telegraph and Telephone) say that by setting up a new industry body, known as the "Innovative Optical and Wireless Network (IOWN) Global Forum", they plan to accelerate photonics research and development to a level that will have major implications across multiple industries.

Other technology and communications firms are being invited to join IOWN, regardless of their size or geography, while details of a multi-tiered membership system are still being worked out.

Photonics revolution
With optical connections envisioned at every level of the communications chain, right down to information processing, the ultimate aim of IOWN is to deliver networks offering around a 100-fold improvement in power consumption, end-to-end latency, and transmission capacity, when compared with traditional networks.

"The world is approaching the limits of current generation communications and infrastructure technology, even as power consumption requirements, data bandwidth, and speed for the Internet explode by offering ever advancing services," state the three industry heavyweights in their manifesto. "In order to solve such social issues and create a smart world, we believe a paradigm shift is required."

And photonics technology will provide the means to make that shift, they suggest. Noting the Japanese firm's efforts in silicon photonics, NTT's CEO Jun Sawada said that the technology envisioned had the potential to solve many of today’s societal challenges, not least the ever-increasing power consumption associated with hyperscale data centers and cloud computing.

"We will bring our leading research and development expertise to foster the photonics revolution and unlock new technologies to ultimately enable a smart world, where technology becomes so 'natural' that people are unaware of its presence," added NTT.

The kind of new technologies that such a network is expected to unlock includes so-called "digital twin" computing, described as an environment enabling "humans and things in the real world to be re-created and interact without restrictions in cyberspace".

There are also likely to be major implications for remote healthcare, disaster prevention, education, automated driving, finance, entertainment and sports, and industrial manufacturing, state the IOWN founders.

"Making our world smarter does not simply mean that everything becomes interconnected and highly automated," they explain in a factsheet outlining their aims. "It is a foundational change; it will shift how we interact with technology to ensure it becomes a natural and pervasive part of everyday life.

"It must be personal, it must be useful, it must be intelligent to guarantee that people will trust it and will want to engage with it. True success comes when people are using technology without even realizing it."

Optical processing
Light will provide the structural basis for the envisioned transformation. "From the network to the terminal, light is converted, and wavelength is assigned according to the function," explain the co-founders.

Optical processors will be used in terminals and servers, as networks assign wavelengths for each function, with major improvements to capacity, latency, flexibility, and energy efficiency envisaged.

"IOWN’s aim is to deliver the next generation of communication infrastructure that will allow as many people as possible to take advantage of this future," state the IOWN founders, adding that over the next few months they will select a board to oversee the new forum and kick-start operations .

Intel CEO Bob Swan said that the vision being laid out by the nascent collaboration was of such magnitude and scope that it could only be achieved by working with global leaders and across industries. "Intel is honored to join forces with NTT and Sony in this industry-wide journey to help define the future of technology." he added.

Sony chief Kenichiro Yoshida commented: "The high capacity, low latency, energy efficiency, and flexibility that IOWN offers opens up exciting new possibilities in terms of connecting creators with users, bringing together people with people, and sharing highly realistic entertainment in real time."

For more information about the IOWN Global Forum, including how to become involved as a member, visit the organization's web site here.

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