TCD research to provide faster and greener all-optical broadband
30 May 2013
A European team of researchers, led by Trinity College Dublin’s Telecommunications Research Centre, is exploring new ways of using fibre-optic technology to deliver ultra-high-speed internet access to even the remotest locations in Europe, at less cost and with less impact on the environment. Researchers acknowledge that the project is ambitious, but that innovative solutions are needed to strengthen Europe’s digital economy and provide jobs.
In January, a European Union-funded team of researchers announced their intention to transform future communications networks in Europe. After a period of analysis, the plan is to (re)design and later demonstrate a “complete end-to-end architecture and technologies for an economically viable, energy efficient and environmentally sustainable future-proof optical network”.
“Simply put, the plan is to save Europe billions in broadband infrastructure costs and provide cheaper, faster and greener access to job-creating internet services in areas where they’re most needed,” explained project leader Dr Marco Ruffini of Trinity’s national Telecommunications Research Centre.
The 36-month project, entitled ‘Distributed core for unlimited bandwidth supply for all users and services’ (DISCUS), will run until October 2015 and involves consortium partners from academia and industry, including leading telecom operators and equipment vendors such as Telefónica, Telecom Italia, Alcatel-Lucent and Nokia-Siemens.
Of the €8.1 million EU funding provided to the project, some €2.78 million is for work to be conducted in Ireland at Trinity, University College Cork and the Tyndall National Institute.
DISCUS tackles head-on the challenge of growing demand in Europe for better-quality data transmission and services – such as bandwidth-hungry video applications and telemedicine – across super-fast, always-on broadband networks.
At the official launch of the project, Minister Pat Rabbitte, Minister for Communications, Energy & Natural Resources, said that strengthening Europe’s digital economy by advancing areas such as a high-speed broadband roll-out was a priority for the Irish Presidency of the European Union.
He added that this telecommunications project would provide concrete results for the benefit of both Ireland and Europe, as well as demonstrating the critical links between research and enterprise that lead ultimately to new jobs.
“The architecture will be ultra-energy efficient, simple to operate and robust to new technology introduction – in other words, it will ‘future-proof’ Europe’s networks,” said DISCUS project co-ordinator Prof David Payne, a co-principal investigator at the Telecommunications Research Centre.
But this means taking a ‘clean-slate’ approach to the architectural design, using optical technologies throughout the fixed network – with no distinction between traditionally separated network nodes (i.e. metro, regional, core access points). “Using advanced optical technologies throughout will generate unimaginable bandwidth and flexibility,” predicted Dr Ruffini, who is an assistant professor on optical network architectures.
A unique feature will be a ‘principle of equivalence’, which gives all network access points equal bandwidth and service-level capability, with typical core bandwidths (10Gb/s to 100+Gb/s) delivered directly to the user. That means, for example, that one would have the same high-quality online experience, capable of handling huge data loads, regardless of one’s location – whether one is close to a core network in a city or in a remote village.
A further advantage of the DISCUS project’s all-optical approach is that it will enable seamless integration of wireless and fixed optical networks, providing cost-effective backhauling of mobile and wireless access network traffic, without sacrificing latency or bandwidth.
“We adopt a different technology called Long-Reach Passive Optical Network that compared to the current standard fibre to the home, allows us to increase the number of users per network from 32 to 1,000 and increase the distance between homes and central office from 10-20km to over 100km,” said Dr Ruffini. “This means that over 1,000 telecom local exchanges that we have today in Ireland could be consolidated into about 20 central nodes, reducing capital and operational costs, reducing power consumption and extending the service availability also to rural areas.
“One of the key features of DISCUS is that we’re viewing the entire network architecture as a whole, i.e. the access and the core parts together, and seeking solutions that can minimise the entire network cost.”
This pared-down, integrated approach will also enable a simpler, more competitive regulatory environment controlled by customers and users rather than network operators and service providers. This, in turn, supports the European Union’s single digital market ambitions as communicated in its Digital Agenda for Europe initiative.
The DISCUS consortium partners are Trinity College Dublin (Ireland), Alcatel Lucent (Germany), Nokia Siemens Networks (Germany), Telefonica Investigacion Y Desarrollo (Spain), Telecom Italia (Italy), Aston University (UK), Interuniversitair micro-electronica centrum (Belgium), III-V lab (France), the Tyndall National Institute & University College Cork (Ireland), Polatis (UK), Atesio (Germany) and Kungliga Tekniska Hoegskolan (Sweden). Total investment in this project is €11.7 million, of which €8.1 million has been contributed by the EU and the remainder is provided by the partners involved.
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