Japan predicts 5-Tbit/sec networks by the 2010s

Japan predicts 5-Tbit/sec networks by the 2010s

By PAUL MORTENSEN

A telecommunications road map of the semi-governmental Optoelectronic Industry Technology Development Association (oitda -- Tokyo) forecasts that a transmission rate of 100 Mbits/sec for homes and 5 Tbits/sec for backbone network systems will be needed for Japanese lifestyles in the 2010s. The report, written by a researcher at the University of Tokyo, also describes the development of optoelectronic technologies targeted for the same time.

For private networks, the report forecasts interactive transmission of 100 Gbits/sec for trunk local area networks (lans), 600 Mbits/sec for distributed system lans, and 150 Mbits/sec for wireless transmission systems. As for optical interconnections, 600-Gbit/sec interbay and 16-GHz/sec interboard wiring are expected to be required in the 2010s.

To support these aims, one focus of the research and development programs of Japan`s major electronic companies, including Hitachi, nec, and Fujitsu, is the speedy transfer of the results of optoelectronics research to the factory floor for translation into low-cost products for major markets. "Fiber-to-the-zone" fits all the criteria for such a market. For these optical-subscriber networks, the focus is compact and inexpensive transmitter/receiver modules with two-way transmission capabilities. Hybrid as well as monolithic integration schemes have been tried, and monolithic packages are favored to reduce chip connections.

The government has also expressed its aims for the subscriber network. The Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications (mpt) published its mid-year "Vision 21," which describes information and communications policies for the year 2010. The mpt reiterated its commitment to introduce a fiber-optic network to all the households in Japan by the year 2010 and has launched assistance measures for this installation, including a low-interest loan system. During fiscal 1996, the financing system was expanded to comprise approximately Y42 billion (US$350 million) in ntt-c loans; beyond this, Y2.5 billion (US$20.9 million) was set aside as funding for the Telecommunications Advancement Organization of Japan (tao). By the end of fiscal 1997, the scope of the ntt-c loans will grow to Y51.1 billion, while the additional funding should reach Y3.05 billion.

By the end of 1997, the report notes that the fiber-optic network will have been introduced to 19% of Japan`s households. In sum, mpt hopes that "by 2010, everyone in Japan will have access to high-speed multimedia services at the speed of 20 megabits [per second] for a monthly charge of approximately Y7800 (US$68)."

Further vision

The mpt has not forgotten to include the regulatory environment and the services to be handled by the fiber-optic network. In June, it began another round of deregulation (including the abolition of the foreign investment limitation--now about 30%), established the rules for interconnection, and promoted reforms to the Diet such as restructuring Nippon Telegraph & Telephone Corp. (ntt) into three companies. As a result, they expect but do not guarantee further promotion of competition and the expansion of consumer interest.

But at present, the service focus is on the Internet, with the number of users up about three times over last year`s level, to approximately seven million. Meanwhile, the number of cyber-mall merchants has increased nearly three times, to approximately 3700, and the scale of the electronics commerce market has expanded rapidly to Y28.5 billion--40 times that of last year. As a result, the Open Computer Network (ocn), which started in April in Tokyo, has experienced phenomenal growth in the number of subscribers. Established by ntt, the ocn provides a flat-rate fee for a routing service for lan-to-lan communications by using tcp/ip (transmission control protocol/Internet protocol) technology. By 2000, ntt wants several million ocn subscribers who will use 1.5-Mbit/sec leased lines and dial-up access.

Ironically, the authority of mpt to oversee the breakup of ntt and establish the groundwork for the fiber network and services is now open to question. In August, a group charged with streamlining Japanese central government and reducing the number of ministries from the current 22 to 13 announced its proposals. Included in the recommendations from the Administrative Reform Council is the closure of the mpt.

Under the proposed plan, the telecommunications and broadcasting regulatory duties of the mpt will be taken over by a new commission, which will be controlled by a new ministry. The council, headed by Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, is expected to publish an interim report. After that, the politicians will take over and debate the report on whether the mpt will close its doors. q

Paul Mortensen writes from Australia.

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