Verizon and NEC team up on distributed optical fiber sensing trial

NEC is working with Verizon on a fiber-sensing trial on Verizon's existing fiber cable. (Verizon/NEC)

In a trial that may have a large impact on smart cities, Verizon teamed up with NEC to test fiber sensing on its existing fiber network.

The proof-of-concept (PoC) field trial used Verizon's existing fiber optic cables as distributed optical sensors to collect information on city traffic patterns, road conditions and road capacity information.

The trial used new optical sensor technology developed by NEC with software underpinned by artificial intelligence for traffic monitoring including the measurement of vehicle density, direction, speed, acceleration and deceleration, and other information.

Using existing fiber that's already in the ground means that Verizon wouldn't have to trench in purpose built fiber to gather the same type of information. Fiber trenching is both costly and disruptive, especially in urban areas.

In addition to traffic monitoring, the data gathered from the distributed optical sensors could also be used by to support public functions such as helping first responders detect and find where gunshots have been fired.

“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 Verizon's Adam Koeppe, senior vice president of technology planning and development, in a statement. “Instead of ripping up tarmac to place road and traffic-sensing technology, cities will be able to simply piggyback Verizon’s existing fiber optic network.”

Verizon is well positioned to deploy the distributed optical sensors nationwide. The telco's fiber deployment now encompasses more than 60 cities outside of its ILEC footprint, and it has been installing about 1,400 route miles of fiber per month on average since the second quarter of this year.

RELATED: Verizon CEO Vestberg: Fiber deployments hit 1,400 route miles per month

AT&T and Comcast also have large fiber installations that could use the same NEC technology that Verizon is trialing. With a large footprint of fiber based on past acquisitions, CenturyLink announced over the summer that it's deploying 4.7 million new miles of fiber across the company's intercity networks in the U.S. and Europe.

The trial used a fiber sensing system that worked with the existing wavelength division multiplexing (WDM) communications channels on the same fiber with minimal impact to the data communications capacity, which would make it suitable for use even in traffic congested networks.

Verizon and NEC said the trial marked the first time that a 36.8 Tbps transmission system and distributed optical fiber sensing were demonstrated together on an operational telecom network.

The two companies also said the trial marked the longest distance that such sensing data has been collected via an operational telecom network. AI tools such as convolutional neural networks (CNN) and software vector machines were used in order to take advantage of distributed intelligent traffic informatics (DITI).

Using 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 fiber segment, the companies said. That allows users to identify detected signatures and to translate those back-scattering signals into actionable information over a wide range that was previously unattainable by conventional sensors.

"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 utilization of traffic information," said Atsuo Kawamura, executive vice president of NEC, in a statement. "We are confident that these cutting-edge solutions will provide meaningful new value for optical fiber networks."