University consortium receives funding to develop state-of-the-art communication network

The University of Southampton is part of a consortium that has been awarded £2.5 million to develop a national infrastructure that will allow experimentation on future internet technologies.

The UK Engineering and Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC) has provided the funding for a new National Dark Fibre Infrastructure Service (NDFIS), which will enable the University’s researchers to access a dark fibre network, using dedicated optical fibre connections.

Following a competitive tendering process, the five-year contract for NDFIS has been awarded to a consortium including University College London, as the prime contractor, and the Universities of Southampton, Cambridge and Bristol. The network will connect these universities to other research networks around the world, via telecommunication facilities in London.

Dark fibre is optical fibre that users can access at the optical data level, rather than the electrical data level used in conventional communications networks. Access at the optical level enables users to experiment with novel communication techniques, such as high order optical modulation or quantum communication.

Professor Periklis Petropoulos at the University of Southampton said: “The internet is playing an increasingly pervasive role in our lives and our expectations of what we can use it for are always growing. As we use it more often, on more devices, in more data intensive ways, we are putting strain on the internet’s existing capacity. This network will allow our researchers at the University of Southampton to experiment with new technologies that will shape a faster, future proof internet, capable of meeting our demands both now and in years to come.”

The fibre connections, comprising some 800km of single mode fibre, together with control and monitoring systems, will be provided to NDFIS by the Joint Academic Network, Janet. The new service builds on previous work carried out by the consortium using a fixed path dark fibre network, Janet Aurora.

Professor Periklis Petropoulos added: “We benefitted significantly from the availability of the earlier version of the Aurora dark fibre network, which has been a great facilitator for carrying out cutting-edge research and establishing collaborations. We look forward to making full use of the extended capability offered by the National Dark Fibre Infrastructure Service and opening it up to a wide community of users.”

Researchers at Southampton will be able to access the new network, to be named Aurora2, both at the University and remotely using the Janet Lightpath service. As well as supporting research on the future core optical network, which underpins the internet, NDFIS will enable research with experimental metro networks and support wireless backhaul networks for future wireless systems, such as 5G. The network will also be open to the university’s industry partners to test new components, architectures and ways of communicating.

NDFIS Director, Professor Alwyn Seeds from UCL Electronic and Electrical Engineering, said: “We are delighted that the EPSRC and Janet have enabled the creation of the new National Dark Fibre Infrastructure Service. This will enable UK researchers to remain at the forefront of technology research for the future internet.”­­