Better Keep an Eye on the Innovative Optical and Wireless Network (IOWN) Initiative
Lead Developer NTT is determined not to allow this promising new technology to become “Galapagosized” (developed and used only in Japan) like what happened to iMODE more than 20 years ago.
What’s new: Imagine only needing to charge your phone once a year. This is the vision of NTT, the developer of the Innovative Optical and Wireless Network (IOWN) initiative. IOWN's concept is to reduce the power consumption of electronic devices to 1/100 of the conventional level and to realize a high-speed, high-capacity network that far surpasses the limits of conventional telecommunications infrastructure.
The core of the technology is optoelectronic fusion technology, which fuses optical and electrical signals. Conventional chips that perform calculations in computers utilize electronic technology, but the amount of heat generated by the electronic circuits inside the chip is a major bottleneck.
In contrast, optoelectronic fusion technology takes advantage of the low energy consumption of light to realize an optical device that consumes only 1/100th of the power of an electronic chip by allowing light to travel through the chip's circuitry.
Why it matters: IOWN could replace all electronic equipment with these optical devices and introduce optical technology into the networks that connect them beginning from 2030.
“IOWN will solve the greatest social challenge of all: reducing the demand for electricity. Servers, PCs, smartphones, and all other devices will dramatically reduce their power consumption, which will have a tremendous impact on society. It is our major mid- to long-term strategy to help become carbon neutral." – NTT President Akira Shimada
There are all sorts of potential applications of this new technology. For example, the development of generative artificial intelligence (AI) such as ChatGPT and the provision of services that enable users to smoothly respond as if they were having a conversation both require an enormous amount of processing power.
Today this computer processing is carried out on servers lined up in data centers.
IOWN is expected to be a revolutionary solution that will drastically reduce the enormous amount of power required for this process.
What’s next: NTT learned the hard hard way more than 20 years ago with their iMODE technology that that they cannot go it alone this time, to ensure the global adoption and success of IOWN.
“I still have a lot of reflection on i-MODE. It was a groundbreaking innovation around the year 2000 that allowed people to browse from their cell phones. I was working in the US at the time, and everyone around me said, 'Wow, Japan is amazing.’ Unfortunately, however, it did not become a global standard. This was because the communication standards in Europe at the time had a better ecosystem, including a method for settling charges. No matter how much we appealed that i-MODE was good technology, and no matter how many technological innovations we came up with, we couldn't get people to use it.” - NTT President Akira Shimada
It is a well-known fact that i-MODE, developed by NTT DoCoMo, took Japan by storm, but became “Galapagosized” (developed and used only in Japan) after the introduction of the iPhone and the start of the smartphone era.
To set the stage for this fellowship, NTT established a new organization, the IOWN Global Forum, in 2019. Roughly 120 companies from around the world, including Sony, Microsoft, Qualcomm, NVIDIA, and Intel, have joined, with the surprise addition of rival KDDI as a member in March 2023.
“When we announced the concept of IOWN in 2019, various organizations were researching optical as the next technology, and at that point, NTT was able to get a step ahead of them. So I asked, 'Why don't we all work together on this?’ Then, we got a lot of support, and now we have more than 120 participating firms.” - NTT President Akira Shimada
The collaborative nature of this project enjoys widespread support.
“Low power consumption is very important for processing ever-increasing data. International technology building requires cooperation beyond the borders of competition. We decided to partner with NTT in the hope that this would give Japan an advantage.” - KDDI President Makoto Takahashi
It is truly a global effort.
“The future of the network faces many challenges, but we are confident that the IOWN Global Forum will be able to meet these new challenges by working together to create a broader ecosystem.” - Intel Vice President Caroline Chan
What kind of products and services will be able to use IOWN after 2030? What kind of specifications and standards will make it easier to use? The answer to both questions is “still to be determined.” That said, for now the strategy is to focus on collaborative efforts to incorporate IOWN technology into new products and to promote the proliferation of IOWN technology once it reaches the practical stage of development.
Link to Japanese Source: https://www3.nhk.or.jp/news/html/20230622/k10014106281000.html
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