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OFC 2020: Adapted expo 'engages participants across the globe'

19 Mar 2020

With its mix of live and virtual events, San Diego expo showcased technical research, new commercial solutions, multivendor demonstrations.

Taking an innovative approach to a blended in-person/virtual conference, last week’s OFC 2020 expo in San Diego, Ca, introduced a new experience for this year’s attendees and registrants. With more than 90 percent of its 700+ technical presentations taking place despite the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19)-related travel restrictions, "the global optical communications community came together to exchange ideas and move the field forward," said event organizer OSA.

As it became apparent that travel restrictions would impact the in-person program, the OFC technical program chairs, Shinji Matsuo, NTT Device Technology Labs, NTT; David Plant, McGill University; and Jun Shan Wey, ZTE, TX, USA, worked together to ensure the OFC program remained accessible and collaborative for interested parties. Through live-streaming and two-way remote participation, people unable to travel to San Diego remained an integral part of the event.

“OFC 2020 has demonstrated that large conferences can engage participants across the globe utilizing the optical fiber communications technologies developed by experts in the field,” said Wey, Plant and Matsuo. “The research and innovations enabled by the OFC community have made OFC 2020 the perfect opportunity to run a virtual conference experiment.”

“The travel restrictions that arose due to the Coronavirus created a new dynamic for this year’s event,” stated the Program Chairs. “But by partnering with OFC management, we were able to rise to the challenge and offer a way for continued global collaboration throughout the event.”

Plenary Session

This year’s OFC Plenary Session (video) was live-streamed, providing important insights to the broader optical communications community from three respected technical and commercial leaders in the field.

Professor Sir David Payne, director, Optoelectronics Research Centre, University of Southampton, UK explored the role of silica in the future of optical communications, emphasizing its potential and challenging the audience to think differently about ways to tackle technical hurdles.

“Let me get to answer my initial question, ‘Is there a future for silica?’ Silica is not all done by any means. It’s very hard to beat for optical components largely because it’s a very refractory material,” Payne concluded.

Dr. Qi Bi, president, China Telecom Technology Innovation Center, CTO, China Telecom Beijing Research Institute provided a lessons-learned overview of China Telecom’s 5G deployment. “The ever-growing data rate of 5G is expected to revolutionize the way that we live and do business,” Bi said. “Vendors need to think how we can do an integrated approach instead of an independent approach so we can have a much better handle on system integration.”

Dr. Benno Willke, research group leader, Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics, Germany, rounded out the session with a visionary talk that discussed plans for a third-generation of gravitational-wave detector.

Special conference program

A commemorative event, “Celebrating 50 Years of Light-speed Connections,” was held this year to recognize the importance of bringing low-loss optical fiber and room-temperature semiconductor lasers together in 1970 to transform global communications and enable light-speed connections across continents and oceans. Special programming featured a keynote address by Dr. David Welch, founder and chief innovation officer of Infinera Corporation, Sunnyvale, California, U.S.A., whose talk gave a glimpse into the near-term future, a show-floor exhibit on the history of fiber optics and a reception.

“Optical networks are central to global connectivity and global communication, and it has absolutely transformed our society and our world,” Welch remarked. “In the end, life is about human-to-human activity. We may elect to utilize machines to facilitate better human-to-human connectivity, and I think that is the greatest contribution of the optical network: the expanse of our human-to-human connectivity.”

New this year, the Special Chairs’ Session, Vision 2030: Taking Optical Communications through the Next Decade, featured visionary speakers who discussed past successes alongside forthcoming innovations. With this year as the marker of a new decade, the session outlined projections for the next ten years in areas such as photonic integrated circuits, silicon/nanophotonics, photonic integrated circuits, evolution of undersea cables, and 5G optical transport, among other topics.


Many of the event’s traditional exhibiting companies and their customers were impacted due to corporate travel bans, but some exhibitors and sponsors were able to attend to conduct business.

“OFC is where we have significant opportunities to address the fiber optic community with products that expand the entire technology,” said Janis Valdmanis, general manager of the Ann Arbor, Michigan Business Unit of Thorlabs. “We’re committed to being here supporting our customer base.”

“OFC is the ultimate,” said Pierre Leonard, CEO, JGR Optics. “You get everything from your raw material all the way up to your full system providers and everything in between, so this is the place to be.”

In addition, several high-profile sessions on the exhibit floor, including the Data Center Summit; Market Watch State of the Industry panel; and the Network Operator Summit keynote from Chih-Lin I, Chief Scientist, China Mobile, were livestreamed from the conference. These sessions showcased important industry and business programming.

Event organiser OSA commented, "OFC 2021 will continue to serve as the industry’s premier optical communications event, which is set to take place 28 March - 1 April in San Francisco." For more information on OFC, visit ofcconference.org.

Exhibitor announcements

SPECTROGON ABHÜBNER PhotonicsTRIOPTICS GmbHLASEROPTIK GmbHIridian Spectral TechnologiesAlluxaHyperion Optics
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