Meet our Editors: Dr. Massimo Tornatore
“Optical networks represent a crucial societal asset, not less important than other critical infrastructures”
Optical networks are the backbone of the internet and the basis for many amenities of our modern life. In this interview Massimo Tornatore, Associate Professor in the Department of Electronics and Information in Politecnico di Milano, Italy and an Adjunct Professor in the Computer Science Department at the University of California, Davis, and one of the editors in the upcoming Springer Handbook of Optical Networks, reflects on the developments as well as challenges and opportunities for optical networks of the future.
More than 30 years have passed after the first commercial deployment of optical networks. Why are optical network still a hot research topic?
Massimo Tornatore: The reason is indeed very simple: optical networks are the physical infrastructure that transports the majority of the worldwide online traffic. Internet traffic has grown at impressive scale in the last 30 years, and, even nowadays, it is still doubling every 18 months. Today Internet traffic is mostly fueled by online video services, tomorrow new 5G services - for autonomous driving, for Industry 4.0, for the Internet of Things - will fuel a further increase in traffic. There’s no indication that optical network will stop their wild run in the near future.
Which phenomenon or application of optical networks influences your own daily life the most?
Massimo Tornatore: In today’s economy optical networks represent a crucial societal asset, not less important than other critical infrastructures as water distribution networks or electricity grids. Many of our daily activities can now be performed and are indeed performed from our home using an Internet connection: remote working, online shopping, even attending a lecture at the university or a visit to our doctor. All these remote network services are made possible by optical networks.
What are the biggest challenges for the field still ahead?
Massimo Tornatore: Optical networks will keep sustaining the evolution of network services, and it is very difficult to imagine which network service will be the next success story in the internet. For sure, the most fascinating vision of future Internet services is represented by holographic and multi-sensorial communication. Today we transfer audio and video, when will touch and odors follow? To support these futuristic forms of communication, incremental upgrades of optical network technologies will not be an option anymore. Instead, truly revolutionary technologies will arise, such as new optical fibers exploiting spatial division multiplexing (SDM) that can be built using multi-core and/or multi-mode fibers.
Another intriguing direction is quantum communication. With the advent of technologies capable to achieve quantum supremacy, communication networks must be equipped with systems for quantum key distribution (QKD) to ensure security and confidentiality of exchanged information, and optical networks will have to evolve in that direction.
Why did you pursue a career in this particular field?
Massimo Tornatore: I have worked on optical networks since the early 2000s. Getting into the field in those years was an exciting prospect for all young telecom engineers. And things have not changed much. Optical networks are still a fascinating mix of computer science, electrical engineering and physics and attract lots of bright minds.
What is the most exciting part of your current research?
Massimo Tornatore: I currently investigate how we can use artificial intelligence (AI) to automate optical network management by leveraging the large quantity of monitored data in modern coherent networks. AI opens a lot of new and exciting areas of research. Did you know that operational optical networks are being used today to monitor earthquakes and terrain movements? Fascinating!
How would you describe the experience of editing the book?
Massimo Tornatore: We brought together many people from various backgrounds and disciplines, from academia and industry, all in order to generate a consistent description of the state-of-the-art- It was not always easy, but the chance of interacting with the most authoritative experts in the field has been highly rewarding.
Final question: For whom is this book a “must-read”?
Massimo Tornatore: Researchers in academia and industry, practicing engineers, graduate students and scientists in the field of optical networks: for all of them, this handbook provides a unique and comprehensive one-stop reference.