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New Dark Fibre Communications Research Service to power the future internet

Professor Dimitra Simeonidou, Technical Director of the National Dark Infrastructure Service at the University of Bristol

Professor Dimitra Simeonidou, Technical Director of the National Dark Infrastructure Service

Press release issued: 7 May 2014

Software defined optical network funded by EPSRC and Janet, part of the Jisc group, will enable researchers to create vital underpinning communications technologies.

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 800 km 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.

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.

"UK Photonics and UK electronics are large industries with annual revenues of £10 billion and £29 billion respectively. We will be working with leading UK companies to transfer technologies developed with the aid of NDFIS into new products and services. The benefits to the UK economy will be correspondingly large."

Professor Dimitra Simeonidou NDFIS Technical Director from the University of Bristol, added:  "NDFIS will be a platform for experimentation and collaboration across ICT disciplines and User Communities. The platform will use Software Defined Network (SDN) control principles and, as such, will be fully programmable by experimenters and end-users.  Internationally, NDFIS will be the first experimental infrastructure of this kind and will generate new exciting opportunities to pioneer the development of hardware and software technologies for future communication systems."

Dr David Salmon, Research Support Unit Manager, Strategic Technologies, Janet, said: "Janet is delighted to be able to work with our funding partners and research colleagues to implement this important new facility. It will form the foundation of a very rich multi-layer environment now emerging in the UK within which new network techniques and technologies can be investigated. The funding commitments give us a stable forward-look for the next five years, which in turn will encourage strong collaborations to form and exploit the facility to develop these techniques and the applications that will make use of them."

Further information


The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the UK’s main agency for funding research in engineering and the physical sciences. EPSRC invests around £800 million a year in research and postgraduate training, to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change. The areas covered range from information technology to structural engineering, and mathematics to materials science. This research forms the basis for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone’s health, lifestyle and culture. EPSRC works alongside other Research Councils with responsibility for other areas of research. The Research Councils work collectively on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK.

About Janet and Jisc

Jisc offers digital services for UK education and research. The charity does this to achieve its vision for the UK to be the most digitally advanced education and research nation in the world. Working together across the higher education, further education and skills sectors, Jisc provides trusted advice and support, reduces sector costs across shared network, digital content, IT services and procurement negotiations, ensuring the sector stays ahead of the game with research and developments for the future.

Janet, part of the Jisc group, has the primary aim of providing and developing a network infrastructure and related services that meet the needs of the UK research and education communities.

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