Verizon and NEC re-use existing fibre for traffic sensing

Created October 9, 2019
Applications and Research

In a recent proof-of-concept field trial, Verizon and NEC Corporation were able to use network infrastructure with existing fibre optic cables already laid in the ground as distributed optical sensors to collect information on city traffic patterns, road conditions, road capacity, and vehicle classification information.

The trial used new optical sensor technology developed by NEC with software underpinned by AI for intelligent traffic monitoring, including the measurement of vehicle density, direction, speed, acceleration, deceleration, and more. Historically, companies have had to lay purpose-built fibre very shallow in the ground, with fibre grating at pre-determined intervals, to gather and synthesise this type of information. Now, with optical sensor technology developed by NEC, Verizon is able to use non-purpose built fibre already in the ground to generate similar data. This new technology could lead to or improve other solutions that support public functions such as helping first responders detect and respond to gun shots and enhancing municipalities’ ability to more quickly and efficiently identify earlier deterioration of bridges, tunnels and other infrastructure.

“This test marks an important milestone for technology that could provide a huge leap forward for those building smart cities and those tasked to manage them,” said Adam Koeppe, Senior Vice President of Technology Planning and Development with Verizon. “Instead of ripping up tarmac to place road and traffic-sensing technology, cities will be able to simply piggyback Verizon’s existing fibre optic network.”

The trial utilised a fibre sensing system that coexisted with existing WDM communication channels on the same fibre with minimal impact to data communication capacity, making it suitable for deployment even in traffic-congested networks. This marks the first time that a 36.8 Tbits/s data transmission system and distributed optical fibre sensing have been successfully demonstrated together through an operational telecom network.

This was also the longest distance that such sensing data has been collected through an operational telecom network. AI tools such as Convolutional Neural Networks (CNN) and a Support Vector Machine were used in order to take advantage of Distributed Intelligent Traffic Informatics (DITI). With just a single integrated interrogator, the distributed multi-parameter sensor system evaluated various properties of back-scattering light, which can be used to derive the static strain, dynamic strain, acoustics, vibrations and temperatures for each fibre segment. This allows users to identify detected signatures and to translate those back-scattering signals into actionable information over a wide range of area previously unattainable by conventional sensors.

“NEC has a strong history of leadership in the area of optical fibre technology. The results obtained from this joint research program with Verizon are a great advancement for smart city business opportunities, especially for safer city solutions such as the conservation of roads and the utilisation of traffic information,” remarked Atsuo Kawamura, NEC EVP (pictured).

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This article was written
by John Williamson

John Williamson is a freelance telecommunications, IT and military communications journalist. He has also written for national and international media, and been a telecoms advisor to the World Bank.