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By: MarkJ - 29 January, 2011 (6:05 AM)
fibre optic cable limitsThe UK governments Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts, has awarded £7.2 million of new investment to the University of Southampton's Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC) and its 'Photonics HyperHighway' project. The aim is to develop new technologies that would be capable of making broadband internet access over fibre optic cables "100 times faster".

The project will bring together experts from the universities of Southampton, Essex and industry partners, including BBC Research and Development. Its goal is to look at the way fibre optic cables are used, and develop new materials and devices to increase internet bandwidth.

The work also appears to be directly related to another ORC project, MODE-GAP, which will use £10m from the EU's 7th Framework Programme to get faster speeds (i.e. more capacity) out of specialist long-haul fibre optic cables (full details).

Sadly 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 revealed that such cables were not completely future proof and would reach their limits sooner than expected.

Professor Payne, Director of Southampton’s ORC, said:

"Now is the time to look ahead to develop the UK infrastructure of the future. Our ambition is nothing less than to rebuild the internet hardware to suit it to the needs of 21st-century Britain.

Traffic on the global communications infrastructure continues to increase 80 per cent year-on-year. This is driven by rapidly expanding and increasingly demanding applications, such as internet television services and new concepts like cloud computing. What this project proposes is a radical transformation of the physical infrastructure that underpins these networks."

The research itself will be conducted at the University's new £55m Mountbatten Building, which is being created to replace a building of the same name that was destroyed by fire in 2005. The complex will be home to both labs for the ORC and the Southampton Nanofabrication Centre, a state-of-the-art facility for microfabrication and high-spec nanofabrication.
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