By Becky Bosco, Ashley Collier, Leah Poffenberger, OFC Media Team
OFC 2023 was a huge success this year, with more than 11,000 participants joining the conference and exhibition in San Diego. A highlight of the conference was the amazing plenary speakers: Patricia Obo-Nai, Chief Executive Officer, Vodafone Ghana; Jayshree V. Ullal, President and Chief Executive Officer, Arista; and Wendell P. Weeks, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Corning Incorporated, headlined a plenary session on the past, present and a vision of the future of optical networking.
If you missed the OFC plenary session, read our summaries below, or check out the recorded session on Youtube!
Harnessing digitalization for effective social change—Patricia Obo-Nai
Vodafone Ghana’s Chief Executive Officer Patricia Obo-Nai led this year’s OFC plenary session with her presentation, “Harnessing Digitalization for Effective Social Change.” Obo-Nai highlighted how Vodafone Ghana is propelling societal change through digitalization for Africa’s rural and vulnerable communities.
Since becoming CEO, Obo-Nai has shifted the organization’s focus. Motivated by her previous experience in customer operations and technology at Vodafone Ghana, she has been working to improve its efficiency and empower individuals and communities. Obo-Nai believes technology drives societal change. “What we should see in our scope of work is that we’re changing lives. We are touching lives with the technologies and the way we use them.”
Obo-Nai shared real-life examples of new technologies changing the lives of Vodafone Ghana’s customers, impacting them through education, health, agriculture, governance, business, and financial services. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Vodafone Ghana partnered with the Ghana Statical Service (GSS) and a non-governmental organization to assist the government in monitoring the spread of the virus. This collaboration collected aggregated anonymized data that was used to pinpoint population movement, which can also be used to predict transportation and agricultural needs.
Today, Africa remains the least connected continent in the world for internet and mobile broadband coverage—28% have access to internet connectivity, and 34% have broadband access. Only 0.4% of Africa’s population has access to fixed broadband. Digitalization—such as access to network coverage and digital literacy—is needed to close gaps in social and economic wealth. Through partnerships with non-governmental organizations and Ghana’s government, Vodafone Ghana has provided network connectivity to nearly 500 rural communities.
Obo-Nai is using digitalization as tool to inspire and drive social change for future generations and women of all ages. “We must work together to ensure that no one is left behind as we talk about optical fibers, and new technologies to make an impact of driving social change,” said Obo-Nai. Digitalization is not about technology but instead about the people and the communities it serves.”
The road to petascale cloud networks—Jayshree Ullal
The optical networking industry is experiencing rapid growth to support a variety of consumer and enterprise applications, from cloud computing to artificial intelligence. The networks that drive these applications have to operate on a petascale—that is, having the ability to perform a quadrillion calculations per second! In her plenary presentation, Jayshree Ullal, President and CEO of Arista Networks, laid out the technological advances that have brought us to where we are today and that will take us forward to a golden age of petascale networking.
Cloud computing is made possible by the power of distributed data centers built by companies like Arista and Cisco. The bandwidth capacity in these data centers has exploded over the past decade, driven by new developments in the silicon photonics industry. Single-chip switch silicon has enabled an increase in the possible number of electrical switches and pushed the envelope of the electrical components embedded in an optical network.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) applications, which have recently made their leap out of the lab and into our daily lives, are also underpinned by the ability to build robust, high-bandwidth networks. AI/ML clusters are built with a huge number of processors–anywhere from 1,000 to 10,000 processing units. The limiting factor in these clusters is the network that connects the GPUs. The data transfer across the network has to “not only go fast but go predictably–without a loss,” said Ullal.
To build these networks with the optimal architecture, and to solve the additional problem of power efficiency, improved optical interconnects are needed. In typical optical networks, reducing power needs comes from either electrical efficiency or optical efficiency. Ullal introduced what she described as “the best of both”–linear drive optics, which directly connect switch chips to the photonics. Linear drive optical devices are created with materials such as thin film Lithium Niobate (THFLN), and reduce power use by more than 25%. “Linear drive optics is one of the most exciting introductions that has been pioneered by my team and others.”
“It is an exciting time to work in cloud networking!” said Ullal in a recent blog post. “I am proud of our AI platforms at Arista, as we continue to deliver a combination of Ethernet versatility and IP protocol capabilities at petascale with congestion free, lossless fabric for our customer’s AI strategies. The exponential growth of AI workloads as well as distributed AI processing traffic are placing explosive demands on the network traffic. Welcome to the new wave of petascale AI networking!”
Capacity to transform—Wendell P. Weeks
Powering an entire city like New York with nothing but electricity was just a vision in the late 1800s. Scientists and business leaders, however, saw that this force of nature had the potential to move society forward. But how? One inventor had an answer: Thomas Edison was perfecting a filament that could produce sustained light inside a glass bulb. This then-novel technology could illuminate homes, businesses, and the streets connecting them.
In his OFC Plenary presentation, Wendell P. Weeks, CEO of Corning Incorporated, shared how Edison began lighting New York City. The few wealthy inhabitants of the blocks near his Pearl Street power station—including J.P. Morgan—had entered the future. Morgan knew that electricity could transform how we live. Morgan was determined to be at the center of that technological paradigm shift. He collaborated with Edison to create what ultimately became General Electric.
Like the power infrastructure that General Electric helped establish, optical fiber networks have become ubiquitous, thanks to people who believed it was possible. Just as it was once only a vision to power New York with electricity, it was once just a theory that we could effectively transmit data through strands of glass. Weeks explained, “John Tyndall, Charles Kao and Don Keck, along with the research teams behind them, achieved what seemed nearly impossible – accurately theorized the light-loss properties for optical fiber and pointed out the suitable material for such fibers—silica glass with high purity.”
Improvement in fiber optic cables have reduced attenuation more than 100 times—meaning data traveling in an optical network can be transmitted over larger distances without expensive amplifiers.
Several competing technologies have tried to improve optical networking even more. For example, hollow core anti-resonant fibers have displayed impressive performance with low latency and minimized dispersion. The journey to improve optical networks must continue as we look ahead to new applications like quantum communications. According to Weeks, if we all keep doing our jobs, we know who wins: everyone who we bring together through connection. Weeks believes “the optical communications industry is expanding the bandwidth of human potential.”
The Optical Fiber Communication Conference and Exhibition (OFC) is the premier conference and exhibition for optical communications and networking professionals. For nearly 50 years, OFC has drawn attendees from all corners of the globe to meet and greet, teach and learn, make connections and move business forward. OFC includes dynamic business programming, an exhibition of global companies and high-impact peer-reviewed research that showcases the trends shaping the optical networking and communications industry. OFC is co-sponsored by the IEEE Communications Society (IEEE/ComSoc) and the IEEE Photonics Society and co-sponsored and managed by Optica (formerly OSA).
OFC was recently named one of the 50 fastest-growing shows of 2022, according to Trade Show Executive Magazine.
Follow @OFCConference on Twitter, learn more at OFC Community LinkedIn, and watch highlights on OFC YouTube.
Posted: 23 March 2023 by
Becky Bosco, Ashley Collier, Leah Poffenberger, OFC Media Team
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