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NTT reveals acceleration to the future for photonics comms innovation

NTT releases annual report on the development of photonics-based wired and wireless communications infrastructure, claiming breakthrough in distributed datacentres and addressing communications for AI and LLM use cases

Aiming to address rising data demand and the related rise in energy consumption, and the vast amounts of compute power required by artificial intelligence (AI) and large language model (LLM) use cases, NTT has reported significant progress through 2023 in its Innovative Optical and Wireless Network (IOWN) project.

NTT’s IOWN initiative envisions global communications infrastructure capable of enabling high-speed, high-capacity internet services utilising photonics-based technologies. It encompasses a networks and information processing infrastructure including terminals that can provide high-speed, high-capacity communication using technology focused on optics, as well as large computational resources.

NTT said this is done to overcome the limitations of existing infrastructure with innovative technologies, optimise the individual with the whole based on all available information, and create a rich society that is tolerant of diversity. Working with Sony, Intel, Microsoft and  NVIDIA, NTT has started research and development (R&D) on the project with the aim of finalising specifications in 2024 and realising the initiative in 2030.

IOWN comprises three major technical fields: an all-photonics network (APN), digital twin computing, and a cognitive foundation. The APN’s photonics and optics-based technologies are designed to achieve three performance targets: ultra-high capacity with data processing of 125 times greater than networks today by volume; ultra-low latency offering near-instant transmissions with end-to-end latency reduced by over 200 times; and ultra-low power consumption with a goal of 100 times more efficiency than current transmissions today, reducing carbon emissions by 45%.

The digital twin computing element is an extension of conventional digital twins that uses photonics-based computational capabilities to perform calculations on virtual models of objects and humans to accurately make predictions about the future. The Cognitive Foundation forms an optimised, autonomous control of ICT resources including cloud, edge, networks and terminals based on artificial intelligence and machine learning.

The NTT IOWN technology report 2023 highlighted two key developments on IOWN for emerging technologies, namely photonic-ready, distributed datacentres and IOWN for AI and LLMs. It also showed the initiative’s goal of 100 times more efficient transmissions. Additionally, it maps out the future deployment of APN technologies, whose low-latency capabilities will enable a shift from centralised datacentres to distributed datacentre “stations”.

NTT began deployment of its APN in datacentres in 2023, testing the technology in Tokyo in partnership with Amazon AWS. The datacentre work has been necessitated by rising data demand and the related rise in energy consumption, expected to exceed 3,000 TWh worldwide by 2030, said NTT.

In the domain of AI and LLMS, NTT noted how training requires massive amounts of compute power, calculating the energy required to train a LLM once is equivalent to powering a nuclear plant for an hour. IOWN’s ultra-high capacity goals look to address these issues.

The report also highlighted growing AI use cases for IOWN-based networking. These included the medical field – AI-based diagnostics, low-latency remote surgeries and the further development of bio digital twins. Additionally, NTT announced its own proprietary LLM, Tsuzumi, an ultra-lightweight model to reduce learning and inference costs.

To realise IOWN, NTT said that it would craft a “concrete” technology roadmap and promote technological development. Following this roadmap, it will accelerate the creation of a natural cyber space in the era of the Smart World by incorporating data-centric computing technology, disaggregated computing technology, and other such technologies into IOWN. NTT, Intel, and Sony have established an industry forum titled IOWN Global Forum (IOWN GF) to meet what is expected to be demand for data and information processing.

To do so, NTT has committed to promote the realisation of a new communication platform consisting of the APN, which includes silicon photonics, edge computing, and wireless distributed computing, through the development of new technologies, frameworks, technical specifications and designs.

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