To realize a human-centric society as envisaged in Society 5.0 (Japan's new blueprint for a super-smart society), the communications networks need to develop further to serve as a social infrastructure capable of conveying diverse information between cyber space and physical space. Today, the environment surrounding the communications industry is undergoing dramatic change. The penetration of digital devices is (1) multiplying the volume of data flowing on networks and (2) exponentially increasing energy consumption by IT devices. In addition, (3) providers and the forms of services are becoming increasingly diverse, (4) Japan’s working population is rapidly shrinking, and (5) the domination of the market by a few large communications manufacturers is accelerating.
The good news is that, even while commercial services of 5G have only just started, many countries have already initiated R&D efforts for Beyond 5G. Beyond 5G will break technical barriers between optical and wireless communications and provide opportunities for dramatic innovations in social infrastructures, including communications networks.
Under these circumstances, NTT has announced Innovative Optical and Wireless Network (IOWN) and established the IOWN Global Forum. IOWN consists of an All-Photonic Network (APN), which connects all devices optically, Digital Twin Computing (DTC), which predicts the future by crossing the physical world with the digital world, and Cognitive Foundation (CF), which controls the connections of all devices.
Network Service Systems Laboratories are developing a photonic node system, which is the core part of the APN. Currently available leading-edge systems can multiplex 50 wavelengths in a single optical fiber, and transmit signals at 400 Gbps per wavelength. In contrast, the target of the photonic node system we are working on is to increase the number of multiplexed wavelengths 20-fold and the transmission rate 2.5-fold, thus achieving a 50-fold increase in transmission capacity. More specifically, we aim to achieve ultra-high-speed, high-capacity transmission of more than 1 Pbps on a single fiber. In addition, this system adopts a disaggregation architecture, which provides an open interface through which various components can be connected. This architecture allows functions to be combined in a flexible and optimal manner so that communications networks can be constantly upgraded to meet evolving social needs.
If we are to provide the user experience envisaged in Society 5.0, the integration of the APN and computers for data processing needs to become more sophisticated, and we need mechanisms and software that enable the APN to realize its full potential. Network Service Systems Laboratories are also developing a Function-specific Dedicated Network (FDN), which will be built on top of the APN. The FDN provides a wide range of user experiences by collecting and analyzing data that flow on the APN and building an optimal communications network, which is achieved by linking various functions that are needed in a human-centric society. The mechanism that plays a key role in linking various functions is the Cognitive Foundation (CF), which controls the connections of all devices. Today, many services are emerging in rapid succession. To provide an optimal communications network in a timely manner for such a world, the CF will continue to evolve its control method autonomously using machine learning technology. This self-evolving ability will not only speed up adaptation to the changing world but also provide added value by eliminating human intervention, thereby helping to solve the social problem of a declining population.
As we undertake R&D to meet the demands of a new society by thinking outside the box, it is also important that we strive to upgrade existing communications networks into IOWN. To do this, we are working on converting custom-designed communications devices into white box switches, while users continue to access the Internet as usual. A white box switch is made up of general-purpose LSIs and an open-source OS, which we are involved in developing. We are also developing high-speed software virtualization programs and a mechanism that uses AI to enable communications devices to operate without human intervention.
Through our participation in these activities, we will contribute to the innovation of communications networks and digital implementation of social systems. Our goal is to make the IOWN concept a reality and make progress toward Beyond 5G, which will serve as a new social infrastructure. Stay tuned to find out the steps Network Service Systems Laboratories are taking towards reaching these goals.