TECH Meets BUSINESS
HikariPath Communications Co., Ltd. has new optical communication technologies that originated from AIST. A system that enables high definition video to be shared between distant locations without latency has been realized, by bi-directional optical transmission. Application in various fields are being searched, and it is expected to penetrate into the optical communication market which is more and more gaining the focus of attention.
President of HikariPath Communications Co., Ltd. He worked at Yokogawa Electric Corporation for 31 years, where he was responsible for research and development mainly in electronic circuit technology, as well as sales, marketing, and project management. He has experienced the start-up of a new business commercializing optical transmission devices and the latest most advanced 40 Gbps transmission speed transceivers. While working with that company he also dealt with overseas work, including an assignment at Stanford University in the USA. After resigning in July 2011, he commenced work as an invited researcher at AIST where he was involved in control technology for optical communication devices and systems, and development of 4K TeleSessions. He established HikariPath Communications in July 2017 with assistance from AIST and others, where he is responsible for technology as well as management of the company.
Our starting point was the idea to make optical communication freely and easily usable
─ Tell us about the events that led to the establishment of HikariPath Communications Co., Ltd.
Until then I was involved in research and development of optical communication technologies as a researcher at AIST. At AIST I worked for the national project, the Vertically Integrated Center for Technologies of Optical Routing toward Ideal Energy Savings (VICTORIES) under the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology’s advanced fusion project. HikariPath Communications was established in order to commercialize some of the technologies developed there, with assistance from AIST and elsewhere.
The new optical communication technology is referred to as Dynamic Optical Path Network (DOPN), and a system known as a “TeleSession” in which 4K high definition video is transmitted without latency in both directions using DOPN is at the core of our business.
Optical communication is now ubiquitous, and optical fibers have been installed in all locations. However, we thought that there might be a technology that enabled optical fibers to be used more freely, and the starting point for the company is the idea of making optical communication easier to use.
― What are your company’s strengths in optical communications and transmission of high definition video?
The market for optical communication will expand more and more in the future, and domestic televisions that support 4K high-definition video are available. However, the contents and the infrastructure are still insufficient. Of course 4K video is available, the broadcasting stations have large scale equipment.
The TeleSessions that we want to make available to the public do not require such large-scale equipment. We are focused on a system that is easy to use and suits the needs of the users, using more simple terminals. We are not talking about a high-grade nationwide network like the broadcasting stations, but a simple system using only the necessary equipment, although using complex technologies such as wavelength multiplexing. It is of greatest importance to us to meet the customers’ needs.
Sharing 4K high-definition video without latency in real time
― Can you explain the mechanism of TeleSessions that achieves transmission with zero latency?
A keyword of TeleSessions is “zero latency” by optical communication using DOPN in part. Transmission of video using conventional Internet is by IP. For example, Skype is a service that enables communication to be carried out freely. The process is first the video is compressed on the transmission side, and finely divided into IP packets for transmission. When passing an IP router along the way the destination is determined, and also on the receiving side the video is recovered for transmission. Every time this compression, transmission, and recovery occurs time is required, so delays are generated everywhere.
With TeleSessions using DOPN in part, an uncompressed format is used for the video. The video is not compressed but converted into light, and the light is transmitted as light without IP routers, so delays are not generated. No restoration is required at the receiving side, so there are no latency in the whole system. The speed of light enables it to circulate the globe about 7.5 times in 1 second. More precisely the speed in optical fibers is 2/3 of this speed, but the latency is a total of only several tens of milliseconds. Most of this latency is caused not by optical transmission, but it is rather produced in the video equipment such as camera, display, etc., so this is referred to as “zero latency” transmission.
IP will continue to be used as the main method of communication, and packet communication can be said to be appropriate for email and web browsing. However, when continuously transmitting 4K high-definition video from point A to point B, transmission of finely divided packets is not necessary. This is communication in accordance with the use, and zero latency transmission of high-definition video is possible for this use.
― Tell us about the products provided by your company and their value.
Three items make up a TeleSession system: a set top box that converts the video data to light and that transmits and receives, a display, and a camera. The set top box has been developed as a simple conversion unit that is operated by just turning on the power. Although there are recommended conditions for the display, it may be a normal mass-produced display. Likewise, the camera is not a special camera for television stations, but a normal consumer-grade camera is sufficient. Certainly major investment in equipment is not required, and this is a simple and compact system.
Set top box manufactured in-house
TeleSessions are possible using a consumer-grade camera
As an example of demonstration, first a network is formed at AIST Tsukuba and Tokyo Waterfront, etc. Universities and research institutes within Tokyo are connected, and these distantly located places use it for meetings, etc. Another method of use is to transmit a large volume of data that cannot be instantly sent with in-house infrastructure at the same time as a TeleSession. Sending data in response to a company's request while holding a meeting is an example of providing added value.
4K TeleSession testbed using DOPN within Tokyo
― In what fields do you envisage TeleSessions being applied?
Our direction is not suited to a service for consumers, so initially we envisage applications for specific uses, for example in medical treatment where high quality is demanded. We provide a venue that links proficient doctors in Tokyo with operating surgeons in the provinces, to enable operations to be conducted while the surgeon is receiving advice. High quality and low latency are required for the transmission of images. Various scenarios can be considered, such as doctors that are still gaining proficiency can watch the skills of proficient doctors, thereby producing interaction, etc. We see opportunities for use in such fields of medical treatment, and at present our approaches are in progress. In addition, we are focusing on medical treatment in remote areas and nursing, and the next step will likely be there.
It is also considered that the system can be used in the musical scene. When the reactions of the viewers can be directly reflected, the performers will be more enthusiastic. With just a unidirectional relay there is often a 1 second delay, for which normal infrastructure is sufficient. However, in order to have performers and viewers widely separated and clapping and creating a rhythm together and singing together, we think that it is necessary to use TeleSessions to link them together with clear images without latency. This does not have to be a major link-up as on television, but it can be produced on the scale of a more grassroots live house, etc. To date there has been no such service, and probably most people think it is not possible. We want to achieve that which has not been possible to date, this idea is the bedrock of our business, and we really want our service to be utilized.
Promoting initiatives aimed at entry to the market for local 5G
― Tell us about your wishes for business development in the future.
In modern society “low latency” is one of the keywords for the demands of our times. Not only in the market for optical communication and high-definition video, but also in many fields such as AR and VR, achieving a feeling of real time is an important element for smooth communication. DOPN technology is one method for achieving this. We want to extend our business into those fields where this is a necessity.
In the case of 5G also, the very word implies various elements. Someday the smartphone that everyone has will be 5G compatible, but the direction that we can develop our business for 5G is different. For example, using the high speed, large volume, and low latency of 5G for special purposes such as remote control or for sending and receiving of large volume data. We think that we can contribute in such applications that are not aimed at consumers. Services for consumers are about to vigorously start up, and initially it will be like flamboyant fireworks, such as sports relays, etc., but services for down-to-earth industrial applications will be started a bit later. We are considering participating in the market for so-called local 5G.
― For this reason it is probably important for you to keep a flexible outlook and attitude.
Of course, this is not just about what we can do as one company. We are likely to link up with various players, and it is important to investigate not simply 5G connections via optical fibers, but also how it is used in what fields by connecting what elements.
Our urgent tasks are to steadily build up the business step by step and accumulate our achievements. This is certainly not major technical development, but undertaking product development work in accordance with customer needs, expanding the scale of the business bit by bit, and entering the 5G and AR/VR fields. For this purpose, we intend to continue to undertake our business in collaboration with AIST.
* The contents of this article are based on information as of January 8, 2020.
HikariPath Communications Co., Ltd.
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