Here we introduce IOWN (Innovative Optical and Wireless Network), an initiative for future communications infrastructure to create a smarter world by using cutting-edge technologies like photonics and computing technologies.
The IOWN Initiative aims to establish specifications in 2024 and to implement commercial use in 2030. A variety of initiatives to achieve this have already begun. In this article, we will look at efforts aimed at the realization of the All-Photonics Network and how it is being applied to smart agriculture.
The "All Photonics Network" is one of the three technical areas that make up IOWN. The introduction of photonics-based technology is aimed at achieving a significant improvement in the potential of information processing infrastructure, which is difficult to realize with current electronics-based technologies. Three target performance objectives have been established for the realization of low power consumption, high quality, high capacity and low-latency transmission: 100 times more energy efficiency, 125 times more transmission capacity and 1/200 end-to-end latency.
In order to realize an All-Photonics Network, NTT has built a demonstration network in the laboratory using a remote video production environment (Figure 1).
In the demonstration network, the optical transmission devices controlled by a prototype controller connect remote locations, and multi-band, multi-core fiber is used to transfer large volumes of data at ultra-high speeds and transmit high-definition video at low latency without compression.
In addition, the network is used to conduct research and development on two element technologies: optical path network design technology and resource design and control technology.
With the increasing volume of transmission data and the expansion of distributed processing, design technology has become important for determining where and how to place transmission equipment, as well as the routes and wavelengths to assign to "optical paths" — that is, the routes connecting customer sites and data centers, etc.
NTT is therefore researching and developing optical path network design technologies that can provide optimal optical paths to meet the diverse needs of its customers, including physical distance and reliability, while reducing the cost of facility investments.
Such research and development will enable the flexible delivery of ICT services in future communication networks based on the All-Photonics Network.
Services that use future communication networks are expected to require faster computation and communication. While in-depth technical skills and experience are required for network resources (hardware, software, etc.) that are also part of the current network system architecture, the level of difficulty will increase in the future, and training human resources such as engineers and operators will be challenging.
To address these challenges, we are engaged in research and development on technologies that will enable us to design and create network systems with low latency and high bandwidth relatively quickly and easily. Specifically, the NTT Group's operating companies and research organizations are working together to create a private 5G demonstration test environment and evaluate the network's effectiveness, using, for example, the manufacturing industry, where industrial robots are controlled from remote locations, as a use case. We are also engaged in research and development on "E2E Overlay Network Technology," which enables smooth switching of communication pathways and a stable communication environment, even when using different types of access networks, such as 5G or Wi-Fi, for mobile communications.
Hokkaido University, Iwamizawa City, NTT, NTT East and NTT DoCoMo have entered into an industry-government-academia collaboration agreement. Under this agreement, they are working to add advanced robot agriculture and high-precision positioning technologies to the network technologies described above, and apply these to smart agriculture.
In today's Japan, a range of problems are becoming apparent as the birthrate declines and the population ages. Among these, the problem of labor shortages in primary industries is especially serious; in particular, the labor shortage in the agricultural sector due, among other factors, to a decline in the farming population has been drawing attention. In order to maintain and develop Japan's agriculture in the future, it will be necessary to dramatically boost productivity through robotic agricultural machinery and other means.
The test conducted in Iwamizawa City, Hokkaido demonstrated the steady and smooth wide-area automatic operation of agricultural machinery, as well as its remote monitoring and control. According to the definition of the American Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), there are six stages of driving automation. These range from "Level 0," where driving automation is completely absent, to "Level 5," where driving is fully automated. In this test, we achieved "Level 3," where unmanned agricultural machinery drives automatically under remote monitoring.
Unlike "Level 2," where agricultural machinery is monitored from within the field or the area surrounding it to perform emergency operations such as a stopping in the event of a hazard, "Level 3" involves monitoring and control from a remote location via networks such as 5G or LTE. This requires low-latency, stable remote monitoring of the entire system, including the network.
In the demonstration, we streamlined various processes to reduce network load, and successfully ensured good quality of communication with the "E2E Overlay Network Technology" described above. We were also able to confirm operations such as the automatic shutdown of agricultural machinery in the event of a deterioration in the communication environment.
NTT will continue its research and aim to establish technologies that dynamically provide end-to-end, high-capacity optical paths supporting any protocol according to user requirements.