Dark fibre communications research service to power the future internet

Paul Boughton

A new National Dark Fibre Infrastructure Service (NDFIS) is to be set up to enable researchers to develop the underpinning communications technologies for the future internet.

The UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has provided £2.5 million to fund the project. 

Following a competitive tendering process, the five year contract for NDFIS has been awarded to UCL as prime contractor for a consortium comprising the Universities of Bristol, Cambridge and Southampton.

NDFIS will provide access to a dedicated dark fibre network connecting these universities, with onward connection to European and worldwide research networks via telecommunications facilities in London. 

The network will be engineered with equipment that can be configured remotely and dynamically, and will be an example of a Software Defined Network (SDN). These fibre connections, comprising some 800km of single mode fibre, together with control and monitoring systems, will be provided to NDFIS by Janet, part of the Jisc group, funded by BIS through its e-Infrastructure programme. 

Researchers in the UK will be able to access the new network, to be named Aurora2, both directly by placing equipment at consortium sites and remotely using the Janet Lightpath service.

Dark fibre is optical fibre that users can access at the optical data level rather than the electrical data level as 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.

The new service builds on previous work carried out by the consortium using a fixed path dark fibre network, Janet Aurora.

The new network will offer programmable transmission parameters, dynamic reconfiguration into multiple sub-networks and the ability to handle multiple transmission formats simultaneously.

As well as supporting research on the future core optical network, which underpins the internet, NDFIS will also enable research with experimental metro networks, such as the Gigabit Bristol network. 

NDFIS will also support research on wireless backhaul networks for future Wireless Systems such as 5G.

For more information, visitwww.jisc.ac.uk