UK researchers building fibre for 2030

UK researchers are leading a project that looks to boost internet bandwidth 100-fold in the next 20 years.

UK researchers building fibre for 2030

The four-year, €11.8 million research into next-gen fibre designs is being lead by the University of Southampton’s Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC), alongside seven other industry and academic bodies.

“The project is about looking at next-generation fibres and amplifiers,” explained ORC project leader Professor David Richardson.

“We’re looking at the whole issue of the basic infrastructure, and how we could do things differently to get massive enhancements of transmission capacity,” he told PC Pro.

We’re really looking at some very adventurous types of approaches

The main thrust of the research is working on creating mulitple paths to send data down fibre. “Rather than sending information over a single-mode optical fibre, which means there’s one information-carrying path down the fibre, we will be looking at multi-mode structures,” he explained. “You can look at it as there being multiple paths through the same optical fibre.”

While the idea has already been used to boost connections carrying data communications before, the ORC project is looking at making it work over long-haul transmissions of 1,000km.

“You generally have problems with interactions between the individual modes… and the information will get scrambled as it propagates down the fibre and be lost,” he said. “It will require us developing techniques that will allow us to keep track of the information on the individual channels to successfully pick those out.”

Hollow-core fibre

That technique is just one of the technologies being looked at by the team. Another aspect of the research is examining hollow-core fibres instead of solid glass.

“We will also be looking at radical new fibre structures, called photonic bandgap fibres, which have a structure which lets the light be guided in the centre of the fibre rather than in a solid glass core,” he said.

“We’re really looking at some very adventurous types of approaches. It’s a high-risk, high-return type of programme, I think it’s fair to say,” Richardson added.

The technology isn’t likely to work its way into connections any time soon, however. “We’re looking at what we’re going to need 20 to 30 years out,” he said. “It’s taking a very early and advanced look at what might be possible by radically changing the fibres used within the network.”

However, the project has a host of industry partners, including Nokia Siemens Networks, which Richardson admitted could lead to breakthroughs being commercialised sooner. “The end goal is this ambitious 100-fold factor, but I’m sure there will be elements of what we do that may have some commercial relevance earlier in the piece,” he said. “But the big picture is to come up with a solution that’s going the be used 20 years on.”

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