6G telecom infrastructure is expected to be rolled out by 2030. Image: Facebook

TOKYO – NTT and KDDI, Japan’s top two telecom carriers, will cooperate in developing new telecom technology that aims for a 125-times increase in transmission capacity, a 100-times increase in energy efficiency and a 200-times reduction in end-to-end delay (latency) for mobile and optical networks.

If successful, they could potentially set the global standard for “6G” telecommunications.

In the lead of telecom research and development (R&D) in Japan, the two companies now plan to combine their strengths in mobile networks, optical transmission and network operation and management to compete more effectively with European, American, South Korean and Chinese rivals.

They will first collaborate on the development of a high-capacity optical communication system for domestic backbone transmission lines and a high-capacity optical submarine cable system for long-distance international transmission. KDDI brings its considerable experience with submarine cables to the partnership.

They will then work with companies worldwide to standardize all-photonics networks and expedite the development of new technologies.

As the volume of data accelerates into what the companies call the “Beyond 5G/6G era”, transmission capacity and processing speed must be increased, power consumption reduced and networks must be compatible.

Accordingly, the basic agreement announced by NTT and KDDI on March 17 sets these three goals:

  • Standardization of transmission methods for all-photonics networks
  • Standardization of all-photonics networks in mobile communication
  • Standardization of orchestration technology

All-photonics networks are characterized by low power consumption and low latency, which is achieved by eliminating the need to convert signals from optical to electrical and back again. But work remains to be done to improve the allocation of optical wavelengths and reduce the degradation of transmission quality in optical fibers and optical amplifiers.

Standardization will be promoted in order to apply all-photonics technology to mobile networks. The two companies plan to connect the core network including base stations and the edge and cloud data centers with an all-photonics network.

By standardizing network monitoring and control (orchestration) technology, they aim to realize highly reliable optical networks in multi-vendor systems.

They will use NTT’s Innovative Optical and Wireless Network (IOWN) Global Forum, of which KDDI is now a member, to promote the concept. The forum has more than 100 members worldwide, most of them technology companies but also academic and government organizations.

NTT’s IOWN is on the cutting edge. Image: Facebook

Launched in 2019, IOWN “is an initiative for networks and information processing infrastructure including terminals that can provide high-speed, high-capacity communication utilizing innovative technology focused on optics, as well as tremendous computational resources…We [NTT] have started R&D with the aim of finalizing specifications in 2024 and realizing the initiative in 2030.”

IOWN has three major technical aspects: (1) an all-photonics network, (2) digital twin computing and (3) a “cognitive foundation,” which optimizes processing and distribution of information inside the network.

The All-Photonics Network improves the information processing infrastructure by using optical technology and NTT’s photonics-electronics convergence technology, which combines optical and electronic elements in a single device.

A review of these technologies and how they are being applied to satellite computing and communications can be found here.

NTT and KDDI aim to standardize the technology in the International Telecommunication Union’s Telecommunication Standardization Sector (bureau). The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is the United Nations agency for information and communication technologies.

The ITU’s Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU-T) gathers experts from around the world to develop international standards, which are known as ITU-T Recommendations. Standards, of course, are critical to interoperability. As the ITU points out on its website:

“International ICT [information and communications technology] standards avoid costly market battles over preferred technologies, and for companies from emerging markets, they create a level playing field which provides access to new markets. They are an essential aid to developing countries in building their infrastructure and encouraging economic development, and through economies of scale, they can reduce costs for all: manufacturers, operators and consumers.”

They are also subject to bureaucratic push and pull.

Last September, Seizo Onoe was elected the ITU-T’s first Japanese director. Onoe previously served as chief technology architect of NTT Docomo, the mobile arm of NTT, and chief standardization strategy officer of NTT.

Seizo Onoe could lend NTT’s IOWN a helping hand. Image: ITU

Onoe’s term as ITU-T director, which runs from 2023 to 2026, should coincide with the establishment of standards for 6G telecommunications. It is generally expected that 6G will be commercialized around 2030, in line with NTT’s IOWN schedule.

This does not guarantee that Japanese standards will prevail, but Onoe’s presence isn’t expected to hurt its chances.

NTT began providing the first commercial IOWN services to corporate clients in Japan on March 16. According to a Japanese press report, the technology has already been praised by a doctor who used it to conduct remote robotic surgery. Other potential applications include control of autonomous vehicles and e-sports. 

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