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Scientists Seek to Improve Fibre Optic Cable Capacity and Avert Internet Gridlock

Posted: 08th Dec, 2010 By: MarkJ
fibre optic cable limitsScientist working at the UK University of Southampton's Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC) have started a new £10m (11.8m Euros) project (MODE-GAP), which will be funded under the EU 7th Framework Programme, to prevent future internet gridlock by enhancing the capacity of existing broadband ISP networks and infrastructure (e.g. fibre optic cable).

The problems with fibre optic cable capacity are now becoming better understood, particularly after the OCR warned of an impending "capacity crunch" (here) during October 2010. This followed lab tests, which showed that fibre optic cable was not completely future proof and would reach its limits sooner than expected.

The MODE-GAP project therefore aims to develop transmission technologies based on specialist long-haul transmission fibres, and associated enabling technologies such as novel rare-earth doped optical amplifiers, transmitter and receiver components and data processing techniques to increase the capacity of broadband networks.

ORC Project Leader, Professor David Richardson, said:

"We are close to realising the fundamental data carrying capacity limits of current fibre technology in the laboratory and although there is plenty of headroom for capacity scaling of commercial systems for the next 10-15 years, we need to be looking now at developing a new generation of transmission techniques based on novel fibres and amplifiers if we are to keep pace with society’s ever increasing data transport demands in the longer term.

The MODE-GAP project has the potential to revolutionise the way we build and operate future generations of optical network. Success will require substantial innovation and major technological developments in a number of fields. The consortium partners believe that they are ideally equipped to undertake the work and are looking forward to the many challenges ahead."

As it happens, ISPreview.co.uk was recently talking exclusively with Professor Richardson about this very problem and we were able to gleam some additional insights.

Professor Richardson told ISPreview.co.uk exclusively:

"The issue of capacity clearly lies in the core rather than access network. Also once the effective single fibre capacity limit (limited either by technology or costs) is reached multiple fibres can obviously be used to address the increasing traffic demands: however the cost, energy efficiency and practicality of this approach becomes questionable in the longer term."

It's important to stress that the problem described above concerns primary/core infrastructure, such as undersea cables between countries and or more localised national infrastructure, and is not such a crucial issue for direct consumer connectivity (i.e. between telephone exchanges and homes).

Those cables have the same problems as undersea infrastructure but a consumer isn't likely to NEED transatlantic levels of broadband capacity for a long time, with the possible exception of prolific P2P downloader's :cheese: .

Led by the University of Southampton’s Optoelectronics Research Centre, this collaborative project also brings together the expertise of leading industrial and academic organisations across Europe: Phoenix Photonics Ltd, ESPCI ParisTech, OFS Fitel Denmark APS, the COBRA Institute at Technische Universiteit Eindhoven, Eblana Photonics Ltd, Nokia Siemens Networks GMBH & Co. KG and the Tyndall National Institute of University College Cork.
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