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 Monday, June 20, 2011
A new ITU-T Technology Watch Report provides an overview of emerging trends in optical networking and progression towards the all optical computer. The report also surveys current and forthcoming standardization work in the field of optical technologies.

Today, the most widely used optical technology is optical fibre for high-speed interconnections, such as in server racks, connecting offices, buildings, metropolitan networks, in computers for data transfer and even continents via submarine cables. However, none of these devices is fully optical; all rely to some extent on conventional electronic circuits and components.

In the past, high costs have prevented optical components from finding their way into computers. But as optical technology matures, prices drop and the limits of miniaturization appear to have been reached, optical alternatives are finding their place in computer systems. The use of all types of optical technologies in communication networks and computers, because they consume less power, is seen as a major saving on operational costs for service providers, while at the same time helping to reduce the carbon footprint. The gradual incorporation of optical technology into the world of traditional electronics is paving the way for the era of the optical world.

Without optical technologies and optical networking related standards, the Internet as we know it today would not be feasible. Optical technologies have been the driving force behind the bandwidth growth of the Internet and enabled the emergence of bandwidth hungry applications for video and new business models such as YouTube which allows users to share video clips. According to the annual Cisco Visual Networking Index, the estimated global Internet Protocol (IP) traffic was 176 exabytes (x1018) in 2009 and  is projected to increase more than fourfold to reach 767 exabytes by 2014. This growth will be driven mainly by video, due to improvements in bandwidth capacity and the increasing popularity of high-definition and 3D television.

ITU-T standards in optical transport networks (OTN)  have played a leading role in transforming the Internetís bandwidth capabilities. This work is led by ITU-T Study Group 15, which has developed a set of Recommendations that defines the existing OTN framework, and is currently developing future technologies such as gigabit-capable and 10-gigabit-capable passive optical networks (GPON and XGPON) to satisfy the unprecedented bandwidth requirements that will soon be demanded by service providers and consumers.

Major breakthroughs are expected in the areas of optical networking, silicon photonics, nanotechnologies and non-linear optics which could lead to major changes in the way computers, networks and data centres are designed.

A dedicated website provides additional sources of information and an overview of ITU-T Study Groups with work items related to optical technologies.

Download Report                   Go to Optical World Website

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