OFC Plenary Session 2019

OFC Plenary Session 5 March 2019

OFC – The Optical Networking and Communication Conference & Exhibition

This big annual optical event is this year held in San Diego. The conference started with Short courses on Sunday, yesterday (Monday) the technical conference sessions started and today (Tuesday) also the Exhibition starts. All ends on Thursday. Today is also the day for this two hour Plenary session.

Intro of the Plenary Session

Beside information e.g. about awards, the Plenary Session consisted of three presentations:

  1. Towards Open Innovation in 5G, by Alex Jinsung Choi, from T-Laboratories Innovation, Deutsche Telekom AG
  2. Tackling Capacity and Density Challenges by Electro-photonic Integration, by Benny P. Mikkelsen, from Acacia Communications
  3. From Self-driving Cars to a Vision for Future Mobility, by Dmitri Dolgov, from Waymo

It is interesting that the first speech is about 5G; mobile wireless technology! I mean, it is an optical conference, mainly with a focus on fibre based optical communication, and plenary starts by talking about a wireless radio technology! But actually, it's not so strange. Even if 5G is about wireless radio communication between the device, the mobile phone and other “things”, 5G needs a lot of fibre optics as well as microwave links in many ways “after” the radio signal has reached the radio base station antenna. So, fibre optics is indeed relevant for 5G, and vice versa.

Also the last, third, presentation about self-driving cars is not really fibre optics. It would require long fibres to connect it to a driving car... Although the driverless car in the presentation used LiDAR technology, which is a laser technology, the connection to optics is indirect. The presentation didn't really tell much about how the car communicated, but 5G technology is definitely an enabler for the self-driving cars to talk to each other, and that way it absolutely relates to fibre optics.

The second presentation was more directly about fibre optics; component evolution.


Alex talked about three reasons for the need of 5G:

  • Mobile capacity / speed upgrade
  • Fixed Wireless Access
  • New products / solutions; Automated driving, Industry 4.0 and a lot more

He concluded “Collaboration is key to address costs, speed up deployment and accelerate innovation in 5G: Operators, Suppliers and Open organizations”.

Electro-Photonics integration

Benny said data traffic is growing faster than spending. Regarding energy, he said it is estimated that Information technology by 2030 will use 20% of the global electricity, not at least for Data centers and Wired access. So, to make the optical systems less energy consuming per byte is essential. A challenge for photonics is that there is not a single building block or technology, like you can have for electronics. Photonics integration is also still a young technology. The transport layer is going coherent, but max 64-QAM is reasonable, more will reduce distance too much. InP versus Silicon for photonics integration was discussed, both have its advantages, and as noted above, none technology can integrate all building blocks into one technology. Benny showed examples how rapidly the integration, the size of transport module has been reduced: from 100G MSA around 2012 to 200G CFP2 in 2017 having a forth of the former size, and 400G QSFP/OSFP coming 2019-2020 is about half of CFP2. Size is decreased plus speed is increased at the same time. Power and cost are also reduced per byte.

Self-driving cars

Dmitri held the final presentation, starting with a photo of the Google self-driving car trials in 2009. Next he showed a photo from 2015 with a Waymo fully self-driving car in real traffic, with only a blind person in the car. Waymo is a subsidiary of Alphabet (the Google mother company). Fully self-driving cars are in field trials. Waymo use several technologies, e.g. LiDAR for distance, 4x short range lasers for blind spots, 19 vision cameras, radars and microphones. AI, Artificial Intelligence, is used in three main areas: Perception, Prediction and Planning. He told that with a car fleet, e.g. a fleet of Waymo cars, they interact: one car comes into a road work, this car passes on this information to the other cars in the fleet so they can adjust their driving to the expected upcoming problem. Next is also to share in the fleet what each car is doing next (e.g. “I stop now”). He didn't tell how this information sharing is done, but I'm pretty sure 5G mobile networks will be an enabler for wide scale implementation.

Note about this article:

Above are my notes from the plenary session, via webcast attendance (free to attend for anyone). The facts I have shared in this article from the plenary session are correct as far as I understood when attending, using and adding my knowledge.

Note about the author:

I attended my first OFC Conference and Exhibition 1999, in San Diego. Now it is several years since my latest live OFC. My optics field has been as fibre optic Component Engineer 1994-2013, for various optical applications, at Ericsson. I have then continued to keep an interest in fibre optics. Currently I have a pause from any ordinary job to focus on family project. More of my professional profile is available on my LinkedIn profile. I am member of OSA, The Optical Society.

Henrik Hemrin

5 March 2019

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