NEC touts new tech that lets fiber-optic lines function as sensors

The Yomiuri Shimbun

NEC Corp. has put into commercial use a technology that enables fiber-optic high-speed communications networks and lines to function as sensors to measure changes in vibration and temperature.

By attaching a special device to an existing fiber-optic network or line, conditions such as cracks in utility poles, deterioration of bridges and traffic congestion on nearby roads can be detected, NEC said. The company is forecasting orders worth more than ¥10 billion by 2025.

The new system works by transmitting special optical signals through the fiber lines. Vibrations or air temperature fluctuations that occur near the network lines result in changes in the volume and wavelength of the optical signals. Combined with the use of artificial intelligence, these changes in the optical signals can be used to analyze traffic conditions and abnormalities in nearby roads or structures.

Fiber-optic lines have been widely laid beneath major roads, installed on railway bridges crossing rivers and between utility poles, especially in urban areas. Thus, NEC’s new system can be used to gather various data quickly, and identify the location where something happens.

NEC conducted trials to verify the device technology jointly with leading U.S. telecom company Verizon Communications Inc. in the United States. The trial demonstrated the promise of evaluating traffic congestion and the running directions and speeds of vehicles on a nearby road.

As another advantage of this technology, if an optical fiber line is snapped, the spot that needs repairing can be detected swiftly. It is also expected to help quickly resolve any telecommunications interference that occurs.

NEC plans to sell the new service to companies and public administrative organizations that own fiber-optic networks. It will also make proposals for deploying the system for so-called smart cities, a next-generation urban model that uses cutting-edge information and communications technology.