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February 3, 2021

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

In 2019, NTT announced a new type of network infrastructure called IOWN (Innovative Optical and Wireless Network)*1 founded upon the company's insight from its previous research and development initiatives.

President and Chief Executive Officer Jun Sawada commented:
"We seek to offer the All-Photonics Network as a new type of network technology in addition to the 11 focus fields*2 at NTT, including AI, VR/AR, and human-machine interfaces."

When you hear the word "photonics," what image conjures itself in your mind?

The "photo" in the first part of the word may remind you of photographs. As a matter of fact, photonics refers to technologies that work with photons. Just like "photographs," this term is partially derived from the Greek word for "light." At NTT, we seek to build a network with optical science and its applications in photonics serving at its core, replacing conventional electrical engineering and electronics.

Ever since Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb, the human race has seen drastic changes in our lifestyles. When we get home, we turn on the lights, watch TV, start up our PCs, look at our smartphones, and turn up the air conditioning before putting our groceries and drinks in the refrigerator. Electricity and electronics are an inseparable part of the way we live.

Meanwhile, it is said that further evolution in IoT and AI will achieve a smart society, bringing significant changes to our lifestyles. While electricity serves as the foundation for our lifestyles, there is concern that electricity alone will not be enough to transmit the large quantities of data and energy required for this new age to come.

NTT seeks to utilize technologies using light produced through its research and development efforts to offer data and energy in areas where electricity falls behind.

The reasoning behind this approach is that 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.

In addition, fiber-optic technologies have been mainly used for telecommunications, and NTT aims to apply these technologies for information processing in devices and servers. Specifically, NTT will implement optical technology for data transmission between chips in the same device and between cores in multi-core chips, as well as for signal processing inside each chip. This will eliminate the need to convert light into electrical signals, thereby achieving lower power consumption and less delay.

The All-Photonics Network is the culmination of this approach. NTT has defined performance targets for three main areas with the All-Photonics Network: low power consumption, less delay, and high capacity and quality. It aims to achieve about a 100-fold enhancement in each area compared to the current technology.

By attaining high-volume data transmission, low delay, fine-tuned information processing, and low power consumption, it will be possible to enjoy a more dynamic level of immersion unlike anything before. For example, smart stadiums could use these technologies to change the way spectators experience sport, or spectators in different places could share their excitement together in real time.

How do these diverse technologies make the world smart, and how do they change to become a natural part of our lives? IOWN is a telecommunications infrastructure based on a different philosophy from conventional approaches, and it may help realize a society where people can accept a wide range of values and perspectives.

The future created through IOWN infrastructure

It may be hard for us to imagine what life will be like in the future. In a similar way, it must have been difficult before Edison's lightbulb to conceive how the world would look after this invention.

Nevertheless, All-Photonics Network technologies will steadily bring significant changes to our daily lives. You will even be able to get just a small taste in 2020 of what IOWN can achieve within the fields of spectator sports and entertainment.

※1 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. in New Window

※2 Artificial intelligence, virtual reality/augmented reality, human-machine interfaces, cyber security, information processing infrastructure, networks, energy, quantum computing, biotechnology/medical care, advanced materials, and additive manufacturing in New Window