The last ten years were incredible for the global optical communications industry. Can this run continue for another ten years? The expectations are very high: 5G, AI, VR, and IoT are the buzz “words” that sum this up. The future is unpredictable, but looking at the past may offer some insights.
Many of us remember OFC 2000 and how that excitement came to a quick end. Yet, the buzzwords from that event did fuel the industry’s growth a decade later. It took more than the Internet and fast networks to make it happen. The iPhone was a vital element of this success. Our children, who grew up with the Internet, and smartphones in their hands, were just as critical for the adoption of new technologies. We also had to learn “new tricks” just to stay in touch with our children.
Back in 2000, we underestimated how long such transformations would take and by how much they would change our world, eventually. The current buzz word technologies could use another decade to mature and win the hearts and minds of consumers and businesses. Look at autonomous driving and the first accidents caused by collisions with trucks, standing on the roads. The AI systems were trained to keep track of moving vehicles, but they failed to alert drivers to stationary objects blocking the way. Such artificial stupidity is just starting to surprise us, and it will likely take another decade before we can let the steering wheel go completely.
Industry 4.0 enabled by AI and 5G will change the world, but it will take another decade for this to happen. Video and facial recognition technologies will make our lives more secure, helping to fight terrorism and the spread of viruses. However, it will take years for the public to be willing to trade privacy for security, especially in the U.S.
Many of the new ideas and AI unicorns will fail, and the skeptics will be right again. Yet, it will be the optimists and the successful 10% of all those ideas and companies that will change the world. The best 1% of new ideas will be incredibly successful, propelling their founders into the feared 1% of extremely wealthy individuals on Bernie Sanders’ blacklist.
There is no doubt that optical connectivity will continue to proliferate. Google is already deploying more optics in their AI clusters than in the rest of its vast datacenters. Designs for these systems are still emerging, and it is very likely that optical switching may play a key role in them as well. Multi-wavelength WDM optics are being used for connections that are only 100 meters long now, yet it was originally developed for long haul networks. Replacing mere inches and millimeters long copper lines is the next target application for optics.
The co-packaging of optics and electronics will happen. The only question is, when? We will undoubtedly see proof of principle demos at OFC 2020, but we may have to wait for OFC 2030 to fully realize the impact of this change. Something new and unexpected, like the iPhone, will come out of the blue sky or more likely out of the Cloud, and our grandkids will be the early adopters. We will have to learn new tricks again to stay in touch with them too.
Reducing power consumption will be the key focus for the next decade, and the optics will play a role. The optics itself can be improved by lowering the power and noise level in the transmission systems. Gains in power efficiency from moving to 800G optics and 7nm silicon are getting smaller. There must be a new dimension to explore. Coherent optics stayed on the sidelines for 20 years prior to entering the industry mainstream. There is probably another amazing technology hiding in research papers now.
Taking lasers out of the optical circuits is another change for the industry to consider. External multi-wavelength lasers could be an “optical power supply” for the future opto-electronic circuitry. The industry is just starting to recognize it. The Prism award at Photonics West 2020 went to quantum dot laser pioneers. The performance of comb lasers and micro-ring resonators continues to improve, and they will surprise the skeptics one day, possibly even next week.
Travel restrictions will make OFC 2020 a smaller, more private event, in sharp contrast to OFC 2000. However, the excitement will still be there and it will be more educated excitement this time. The LightCounting team will be at the event to connect with clients, attendees and exhibitors. We are looking forward to seeing you there. Safe travels to sunny San Diego.
Posted: 28 February 2020 by
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