An Earth-Mars laser link, the OptIPuter, and cinema-quality digital video

February 23, 2005

FEBRUARY 23, 2005 - Researchers will announce some of the latest breakthroughs and innovations in optics-based communications at OFC/NFOEC 2005-a joining together of two leading meetings in the optical communications community. OFC/NFOEC (Optical Fiber Communication Conference and Exposition/National Fiber Optic Engineers Conference) will take place at the Anaheim Convention Center between March 6 and 11, 2005. In addition to a technical conference that spans the whole meeting, there will be an exposition featuring the latest in optical technology from more than 650 of the industry's key companies. The meeting is sponsored by the IEEE Communications Society, the IEEE Lasers and Electro-Optics Society, and the Optical Society of America.

A meeting press room will be located in the Anaheim Convention Center, room 202A. The press room's hours will be Sunday, March 6, 12 p.m. - 4 p.m. and Monday, March 7 - Thursday, March 10, 7:30 a.m. - 6:00 p.m. Those interested in obtaining a badge for the press room should contact OSA's Colleen Morrison at 202-416-1437, More information can be found online at, including exhibitor press releases and other materials.


Kicking off the meeting on March 8 at 9 a.m., the OFC/NFOEC plenary session will feature two speakers who have been integral to the communications revolution.

In "Through A Glass Brightly," plenary speaker Donald B. Keck, retired from Corning Incorporated, will discuss a remarkable convergence of three technological breakthroughs that occurred nearly at the same time 35 years ago: the first Internet experiments, the first demonstration of room-temperature semiconductor lasers (now crucial for sending optical signals in telecommunications), and the invention of "low-loss" optical fiber, the kind that absorbs little light and therefore preserves optical signals over long distances. This convergence led to a 400-million-mile-and-growing low-loss fiber-optic network that is driving globalization of the economy and society. Dr. Keck, a key member of the team that invented low-loss optical fiber, will discuss the history of these developments and what might lie ahead. (9:30 a.m.- 10:15 a.m.)

Called "the ultimate broadband solution" by its adherents, fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) connects high-speed optical fiber directly to residential homes and businesses. Faster than DSL and cable-modem connections, and poised to offer television services alongside Internet access, FTTH has become available to consumers and business in select parts of the US over the past year. However, Japan may already provide a glimpse of what's to come with FTTH, as the technology is already widespread there. Hiromichi Shinohara, the director of NTT Access Network Service Systems Labs in Japan, will describe the rapidly growing FTTH market in Japan. He will discuss FTTH services, the lessons learned from deploying the systems, and the key R&D issues for meeting the challenges of FTTH deployment. Since joining NTT Laboratories in 1978, Dr. Shinohara has been a leader in developing fiber-optic cables, broadband networks, and optical access systems. (10:15- 11 a.m.)


Following are a few of the many technical highlights to be presented at the meeting.


Don Boroson of the MIT Lincoln Laboratory will present an overview of the Mars Laser Communications Demonstration, designed to be the first laser-based interplanetary communications link. Slated to transmit information at up to 30 million bits per second (much faster than a cable modem; in fact, as fast as some optical-fiber connections), the system is designed to be almost ten times quicker than the speeds of the fastest interplanetary radio links in existence. The $300 million NASA experiment will be launched on the Mars Telecommunications Orbiter (MTO), scheduled for liftoff in 2009. Once the requisite equipment goes into orbit at the Red Planet, transmissions between Earth and the laser communications terminal on the MTO will undergo about a year of testing. Both test data and real data from Mars-based science missions will be sent. Describing the various components of the system, Boroson will discuss the engineering challenges of establishing a successful laser link, such as the losses in intensity that will occur in the light beam as it travels between the planets and the extremely challenging task of pointing the very narrow laser beam. A joint project of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC), the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the MIT Lincoln Lab, the mission aims to dramatically improve NASA's ability to communicate throughout the solar system. (Paper OWA1, "The Mars Laser Communications Demonstration Project: Truly Ultralong-Haul Optical Transport.")


A new technical achievement promises to reduce the costs and widen the availability of "quantum cryptography"-a new form of encryption which is far more secure than any other method for transmitting sensitive information such as bank passwords or classified information. For the first time, researchers have transmitted an essential component of a quantum-cryptography system known as a "quantum key"-a stream of photons that decodes a separate stream of encrypted data-through a conventional metropolitan optical-fiber network. Eavesdroppers who intercept even a single photon in a quantum cryptography transmission inevitably disturb the photons in such a way as to alert both sender and receiver. While quantum cryptography has become commercially available in the past couple of years, previous quantum-key-distribution systems have been done over "dark fiber"-dedicated fiber lines that are not for general use. The transmission-demonstrated by Telcordia and Los Alamos scientists-was performed over 25 kilometers of a metropolitan-area DWDM (dense wavelength division multiplexing) network. Robert Runser of Telcordia will describe the experimental transmission and Richard Hughes of Los Alamos will provide a tutorial that will include the history and ingredients of quantum key distribution. (Papers OWI2, "Demonstration of 1.3 μm Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) Compatibility with 1.5 μm Metropolitan Wavelength Division Multiplexed (WDM) Systems," and OWI1, "Quantum Key Distribution - The Science of Secret Communication.")


OptIPuter is the acronym used for an experimental system architecture that tightly couples computing, storage, visualization and networking to exploit the rapidly expanding capabilities of fiber optic networks. The OptIPuter uses the Internet's IP communications protocol over dedicated optical connections to support advanced applications in medical and geophysical imaging techniques. Such dedicated optical connections now exist across the United States and around the globe, allowing for collaborative visual analysis of remote large data objects important to fields as disparate as brain imaging, climate change, or planetary exploration. Astrophysicist and Internet pioneer Larry Smarr of the University of California-San Diego will report on the latest developments in this rapidly expanding research area. (Paper OWG7, "The OptIPuter, Quartzite and Starlight Projects: A Campus to Global-Scale Testbed for Optical Technologies Enabling LambdaGrid Computing.")


Successful data transmission over optical fiber must optimize or maximize several parameters, such as bits per second, number of distinct wavelengths used simultaneously to send signals, or the distance the optical signals can travel without being regenerated (turned back into the electrical domain, amplified, and reconverted to light). MCI has already maintained a 1200-km optical fiber (200-500 km without regeneration is the norm) between Sacramento and Salt Lake City at a transmission rate of 10 gigabits per second (while simultaneously using 40 to 80 different wavelengths). Now MCI scientist David Chen will report increasing the transmission rate up to 40 gigabits per second on this same fiber without any additional upgrades. (Paper OTuH4, "World's First 40 Gbps Overlay on a Field-Deployed, 10 Gbps, Mixed-Fiber, 1200 km, Ultra Long-Haul System.")


Your local movie theater may be getting closer to never showing a single film again-at least actual celluloid film. Researchers will demonstrate that distributing movie-theater-quality digital motion pictures to movie theaters is now technologically feasible over emerging high-speed optical networks. By receiving movies digitally, all theaters could show pristine first-generation releases of movies that would not fade or degrade after repeated showings. Although some theaters have already installed digital projectors which play back movies from computer files rather than film, optical networks have historically been too slow and erratic to deliver cinema-quality video to digital projectors in a practical fashion. Tetsuro Fujii of the NTT Network Innovation Laboratories in Japan and colleagues developed a prototype digital cinema system that could store, transmit, and display super-high-definition (SHD) digital motion pictures-consisting of approximately 8 million pixels per still image-which is comparable in quality to 35-mm film. Using the Internet2 network, in 2002 NTT researchers transmitted SHD streams in real time between Chicago and Los Angeles at a speed of 300 Mbps (million bits per second). Using an NTT optical network in Japan, in 2004 the researchers transmitted digital cinema at 450 Mbps from Osaka to Tokyo. These speeds, conclude the researchers, demonstrate that high-speed optical networks are becoming mature enough for the distribution of cinema-quality digital motion pictures on a commercial basis. (Paper OFP4, "Recent Progress of Cinema over Optical Networks.")

American Institute of Physics

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