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March 25, 2021

Acceleration in the Remote World: Limitless Innovation Made Possible through IOWN

The year 2020 marked the second year since NTT announced a new type of network infrastructure called IOWN (Innovative Optical and Wireless Network). Owing to the impact of the spread of COVID-19--a phenomenon that shook the whole world--many events have been postponed or canceled, and company activities have stalled. As a result, we saw drastic changes to our lives in 2020.

With progress in work from home initiatives and with difficulty traveling overseas or even returning home from overseas, there is a need for significant reforms in all kinds of activities. However, this trend can also be viewed as a long-awaited opportunity to achieve a smart world through the IOWN infrastructure that NTT has been working on for many years.

Just before the start of 2021, in November 2020, several presentations were given regarding progress in the IOWN infrastructure and NTT's latest R&D efforts. These presentations included ongoing issues such as actions that need to be taken due to COVID-19, and the direction to choose in the wake of the pandemic. This article showcases some examples of these R&D initiatives at NTT.

Aiming to change the game with a new social infrastructure

The volume of traffic through the Internet and IoT devices in 2025 is projected to be about 190 times that of 2006. The amount of data is expected to increase by about 90 times as well. Our current information infrastructure technologies are not able to handle new, refined AI or increasingly complex cross-industry innovations. In addition, these new offerings require more and more power to run.

"The IOWN infrastructure started with a single question: Could we achieve a groundbreaking reduction in power consumption?"

The NTT R&D Forum was held online on November 17, 2020. At one of the keynote lectures for this event, President and CEO Jun Sawada spoke as follows:

"When we look at the trade balance in Japanese industry as a whole, we can see that Japanese industrial technology has been met with high acclaim abroad. On the other hand, Japan's technology is lagging behind in almost all areas in the field of communication."

The IOWN infrastructure aims to enhance speed and reduce power consumption by taking the optical technology that was previously used in communication and implementing this within circuits and semiconductors in the hardware, thereby building a system for communication within hardware using light. Light travels faster than electricity, allowing for data transmission with less delay and with larger volumes compared to electrical circuits. On top of this, data transmission with light uses less electrical power.

Image: President and CEO Jun Sawada giving a lecture

"We want to change the game. We want to promote transformation in society driven by IOWN. This is a game changer that will allow Japan to contribute to the world at large."

It is said that if this infrastructure is achieved, we will see large, fundamental changes to the technological infrastructure that has greatly depended on electricity as a matter of course until now.

With plans for implementation by 2030, preparations are moving steadily for the IOWN infrastructure to change the game.

NTT has already created a prototype of a "photoelectric convergence device," a fingertip-sized unit that connects memory devices with photonic network technology. NTT will also implement its "4D digital platform™" on a graduated basis starting in FY 2021. This platform will be implemented as part of IOWN, and it integrates a wide range of sensing data in real-time into the Advanced Geospatial Information Database that incorporates high-precision spatial information, and map data. This is said to enable high-speed processing of sensing data, allowing for use in a wide range of industrial fields.

Jun Sawada also mentioned the Optical Disaggregated Computing Model for dynamically connecting the CPU, GPU and storage in computers; as well as IOWN Space Computing, a data center using low-orbit satellites with energy supplied via solar power generation. In this way, he discussed plans in all fields of industry.

"We are pursuing technological research to change the future"

This talk from President and CEO Jun Sawada can be seen to be targeting our future society in 2030 and even beyond.

Next, learn about some of the latest research taking place at NTT Group.

A network environment to satisfy diverse and demanding application requirements

An extreme NaaS for fast, high quality end-to-end communication

NaaS is short for Network as a Service. This term refers to a service that allows users to easily utilize a network environment with the required characteristics when needed, instead of users configuring networking equipment and lines themselves.

NTT is conducting research and development for an "extreme NaaS," a network service platform for providing reliable end-to-end communication to satisfy the extreme requirements anticipated in the age of 5G and beyond using various optical/wireless access systems.

Image: 'extreme NaaS,' a network service platform for providing reliable end-to-end communication to satisfy the extreme requirements (*Japanese Version Only)

It flexibly combines individually provided wireless systems such as wireless LAN and 5G, and achieves a pleasant communication environment that stays connected, without the user being aware of the wireless systems being utilized.

Realizing an extreme NaaS requires many different kinds of technology. The wireless network control intelligence Cradio™* features a group of technologies to understand the wireless communication environment, predict the level of quality in advance using AI, and achieve dynamic control based on these predictions.

Typical use cases for this solution include communication environments that need to be stable for running factories and delivery centers; as well as autonomous driving for machines in the agricultural industry.

In addition, this offering will achieve the optimal form of control even within special and complex communication environments such as spectating at a stadium, or livestreaming. This allows the whole network to achieve communication at a stable quality by distributing the load so that it does not focus on specific frequencies or devices.

* Cradio™ is a group of multi-radio proactive control technologies developed by NTT.

Inactivate viruses by delivering UV light using optical transmission technology

Fivery™: technology to fight COVID-19 and other infectious diseases

Ultraviolet (UV) light is a type of electromagnetic radiation, and UV-C is a type of UV light that has gained attention as a means to inactivate SARS-CoV-2 and other viruses by shining this light on them. UV-C has started to be incorporated in products that shine UV light directly from a device with a UV-C light source.

NTT has started research and development on Fivery™, a technology to inactivate viruses by delivering UV light via optical fiber to places and situations where it would otherwise not be possible to shine UV light directly. This project utilizes the optical transmission technology cultivated by NTT over the years.

Image: Fivery™, a technology to inactivate viruses by delivering UV light via optical fiber (*Japanese Version Only)

Image: A mockup model of Fivery™ using visible light A mockup model of Fivery™ using visible light

Fivery™ inactivates viruses by shining UV light at a target using optical fiber. As long as there is space to install optical fiber, it is possible to deliver UV light to areas with restricted space or where it is difficult to install light sources.

In addition, this technology allows one light source to be used for multiple targets, or for the intensity of the light to be controlled according to the movement of people in each space, thereby achieving efficient and safe operation.

For example, this offering is expected to be used for elevator buttons and ATM control panels that are touched by many people.

News release

Alert workers to predicted heat-related health risks

Heat-related health hazard prevention system using wearable biological and environment sensors

NTT has worked in collaboration with Toray Industries, Inc. to develop hitoe®, a new performance fabric that reads the minute electrical signals created by the body. In 2014, we worked quickly to propose and implement a wearable biological sensor in the form of clothing that can measure electro-cardiac activity, heart rate, and other biological information simply by wearing it.
In 2020, NTT continued to pursue R&D efforts as a pioneer of the field, going on to develop new wearable biological and environment sensors.

Image: Clothing fitted with wearable biological and environment sensors Clothing fitted with wearable biological and environment sensors

In addition to heart rate, ECG waveforms and other biological information that were already able to be identified, this new offering can also acquire the temperature, humidity, and other information about the inside of the clothing, thereby making it possible to understand the impact that the environment has on the body. It also uses proprietary analytical technology to calculate the number of steps people take, how much they have exerted themselves, the angle of their posture, and other details.

On top of this, the new sensor devices weigh 12 g--about half that of previous models--and can run for over 50 hours on battery power. Technological reform at Goldwin Inc. and Toray Industries, Inc. brought about an evolution in this clothing, achieving thinner fabric that dries quickly and that has a significantly better form-fitting feel. For a field test in the summer of 2020, workers engaged in network facility construction for the NTT Group actually wore this clothing. Many participants stated that the clothing was perfectly comfortable and pleasant to wear.

  • Image: The sensor device (left) that has been scaled down in weight to approximately 12 g The sensor device (left) that has been scaled down in
    weight to approximately 12 g

  • Image: The application screen on a smartphone carried by a worker The application screen on a smartphone carried
    by a worker

Through collaborative research with the Nagoya Institute of Technology, Yokohama National University, and Shigakkan University, as well as with supervision from experts in thermal physiology, we created technology to estimate the changes in internal body temperature. As a result, we succeeded in handling a more physiologically oriented metric that was not present in conventional heat-related health hazard prevention systems.

Another advantage of this system is that it is possible to configure a metric of burden in relation to fatigue, thereby visualizing physical burden. It is thought that workers checking on their own physical burden will help ensure safety at the production site, protect the health of workers, and ultimately contribute to the stable operation of the project itself.

Workers equipped with the wearable biological and environment sensors each carried a smartphone with them. This smartphone is used to send data in real-time to the cloud. The manager can view the current state of workers on a management screen, and can even see the changes in metrics over the day as a graph.

This system is expected to be used for managing the safety of workers in hot environments outside or at indoor locations without ventilation equipment, as well as for managing the safety of athletes, or anyone enjoying exercise, as they conduct activities in high-temperature environments.

The performance fabric hitoe® is a fiber material jointly developed by Toray Industries, Inc. and Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation, and is the registered trademark of the two companies.

News releases

Deliver only the sounds you want to be heard

Personalized Sound Zone: the ideal sound space

We are working on research for a system that allows audio to be heard without using headphones and without sound reaching further than it needs to, such as in long online conference calls when working at home.

Image: Concept: Personalized Sound Zone (*Japanese Version Only)

Through this project, we will realize a system that produces a space where the user can hear other people's voices from speakers placed near the ears, but where no sound can be heard when the user moves away from the speaker. In addition, the system will cut out keyboard noise and children's voices, extracting only the user's voice to be delivered to recipients.

This technology will allow the user to concentrate during online conference calls without wearing headphones and without being distracted by ambient noise. With the ability to let people hear only the sounds they want to hear and cutting out undesired sound, this technology is expected to be applied in many different areas.

Through-Window Conversation Device

We have developed a device that allows people to talk from each side of a closed glass window in a car or building. This Through-Window Conversation Device is shaped like a telephone receiver and incorporates the Window Talk Technology developed by NTT Media Intelligence Laboratories. The device can be pressed onto a closed glass window or acrylic board to convey one's voice to the other person using vibration.

Image: The Through-Window Conversation Device The Through-Window Conversation Device

Also, a microphone in the device collects the other person's voice so that it can be delivered through earphones. This means that people can talk naturally even if they are completely closed off from one another.

  • Image: Application range of active-sound-control technology (*Japanese Version Only)

  • Image: The Through-Window Conversation Device

This device is expected to be used in many areas, such as for medical inquiries conducted through car windows while patients are sitting in their cars in the car park after visiting a hospital, and for drive-through orders at restaurants. In this way, the device can fight infection in the age of COVID-19, as it can prevent droplet infection.

NTT Technical Review
Media-processing Technologies for Artificial Intelligence to Support and Substitute Human Activities
Media-processing Technologies for Ultimate Private Sound Space

Connect the enthusiasm between remote spectators

A remote spectator assistance system for enhancing excitement during remote spectating

We are working with Sony Corporation in research for a remote spectator assistance system that employs an interactive approach that lets spectators share a sense of excitement and unity when watching sports, music, and other remote real-time events from home.

Image: A remote spectator assistance system

We are engaging in R&D activities to realize visual effects that follow the changes in emotion among spectators, such as waving megaphones and calling out loud, as well as presentational effects that enhance the connections between spectators as they watch events from their own homes due to being unable to visit venues during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We will also work to reduce the network latency in transmission between the stadium and each spectator, as well as exert efforts for technology that displays information without noticeable delays such as by predicting cheers based on the excitement at the venue.

Innovation to create a Remote World

NTT's technological reforms have made progress beyond the areas described above, such as in the fields of medicine, agriculture, and the natural sciences. Many new forms of innovation will be produced in a trend propelled along with IOWN.

  • Image: Remote stethoscope

    Remote stethoscope

    This system features an examination vest equipped with multi-channel acoustic sensors. When a patient puts on the examination vest, a physician can tap an on-screen diagram to listen to sounds from the desired location on the patient's body, thereby achieving non-contact diagnosis.

    News release

  • Image: Medical and Health Vision through Bio Digital Twin initiatives

    Medical and Health Vision through Bio Digital Twin initiatives

    We are researching technology to create Bio Digital Twins for each and every person, real-time sensing technology, and technology that can predict people's future physical and mental states and that can achieve in situ information transmission and control.

    News release

  • Image: Lightning control and charging technology

    Lightning control and charging technology

    Research about using drones to guide lightning strikes to a safe place, and about methods to send lightning energy to chargeable cars.

    See this page to learn more

  • Image: A network to achieve level-3 autonomous driving in farm machines

    A network to achieve level-3 autonomous driving in farm machines

    We are pursuing research to realize remote control of robotic farming machines over large areas of land using network infrastructure platform technology.

    News release

What is IOWN?

IOWN is short for "Innovative Optical and Wireless Network." NTT worked with Sony and Intel to establish the IOWN Global Forum. Each member of this industrial association is engaging in research and development based on its field of expertise to build a communication infrastructure for the future form of society to be ushered in by IOWN.

What is IOWN? A Breakthrough Approach for a Smart and Natural Future