• Technical Conference:  30 March – 03 April 2025
  • Exhibition: 01 – 03 April 2025
  • Moscone Center, San Francisco, California, USA

Reflections on the Pandemic, 5G and Optical Wireless

By Casimer DeCusatis

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt our work, education, and leisure activities, causing enormous loss of life and impacting the livelihood of millions around the globe. The pandemic has also brought long-standing issues of Internet access to the forefront, as everyone adjusts to video-based collaborative workplaces, distance education, remote healthcare, online commerce, and many other challenges. As we all grapple with pandemic related issues in our daily lives, in this blog we’ll take a look at some of the plans for the annual OFC meeting to address these concerns through special symposiums, workshops, and panel discussions.

OFC Programs Covering New Demands on Networks

In some cases, our response to the pandemic can be seen as a triumph of science and technology infrastructure, while at the same time we have uncovered long-term challenges to our society and economy. OFC won’t shy away from these issues, gathering experts from around the world representing industry, academia, government, infrastructure providers, entrepreneurs, and futurists for a special symposium of reflections on the pandemic. One of many symposia at this year’s OFC, this session looks back on how the pandemic has changed demand on our networks and driven new requirements for ubiquitous, dependable network communications. We’ll also look forward to a post-pandemic world, exploring innovations that will help bridge the digital divide and prepare for future lockdowns.

5G and Optical Wireless Communication

While data is still being gathered, recent reports indicate that the pandemic drove a 35-40% sustained increase in global Internet traffic, which is currently exceeding 600 Terabits per second. While early forecasts predicted traffic growth would peak at around 28%, the actual peak was closer to 47%. This impacted 5G rollouts in both established urban markets as well as suburban and rural locations, many of which faced an even greater reliance on Internet services. The networking industry made a remarkable response to this issue; for example, AT&T launched 122 new 5G markets in April 2020, the same number that previously took over six months to deploy. Modern 5G relies heavily on optical fiber as well as so-called “fiber radio” (a hybrid technique which combines the best features of radio communication and fiber optics). Many analysists felt that this would be a significant opportunity for optical wireless communication to emerge from niche markets in free-space communication systems. Optical wireless potentially offers extremely high spectral efficiency (bits per hertz per square meter), frequency reuse, and immunity to electromagnetic interference. Despite these advantages and the market push for exceedingly higher wireless data speeds, optical wireless hasn’t yet made the leap to edge and end-user communication networks. OFC will feature a workshop discussing these issues and debating the role of fiber radio in both 5G and next generation 6G rollouts. This workshop will aim to identify areas of potential limitations for current systems and discuss why some analysts are optimistic about the future for optical wireless.

The Value of Optical Wireless Communications

The value of optical wireless will also be the topic of a panel discussion among industry experts: “Optical Wireless Communications for Indoor Access Networks.” This session will provide different points of view on enabling technologies for the optical physical layer, emerging standards such as visible light communications (VLC) and Li-Fi, topology control, routing, and practical, cost effective network architectures. What will it take for these systems to become a larger part of the pandemic response and how can they best co-exist with other access technologies to provide an economical migration path to higher capacity networks? This session will also discuss other barriers to widespread adoption of optical wireless which have been indirectly affected by the pandemic, such as a lack of greater investment capital and issues with market segmentation and targeted deployments for early 5G rollouts.

Technology and the Pandemic at OFC

Although the pandemic’s impact has been experienced differently by people around the world, there’s no denying that all of us have been touched by these changes in some way and the long-term effects remain unclear. OFC provides a unique opportunity for us to come together as a technical community and work with our peers to better understand and respond to these challenging times. You won’t want to miss these symposia, workshops, and panel discussions at OFC, as well as all the other leading-edge technology updates. Be sure to check the conference schedule and register now. I hope to see you there.

What’s been the largest impact of the pandemic on your business? Drop me a line on Twitter (@Dr_Casimer), and maybe we’ll discuss it in a future blog. For cited sources, please contact @Dr_Casimer on Twitter. 

Register for the OFC Technical Conference by 07 February 2022 to save.



Posted: 2 February 2022 by Casimer DeCusatis | with 0 comments

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The views expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of The Optical Fiber Communication Conference and Exposition (OFC)  or its sponsors.