Bangor University Scientists Boost Fibre Speeds To 20Gbps

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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Technology developed at Bangor University could allow a massive speed boost over the fibre infrastructure currently in use

Scientists at Bangor University in Wales say they have developed the first working, “end-to-end” system capable of boosting fibre-optic network bandwidth to at least 20 gigabits per second (Gbps), roughly 20 times the speeds of the fastest fibre networks today, and 2,000 times that of the average UK broadband connection.

By comparison, BT’s Infinity fibre-based “superfast” broadband product is capable of download speeds of up to 40Mbps, while Bangor University estimated that UK customers currently have access to real-world average speeds of around 20Mbps.

Speed jump

Outside the UK some cities offer fibre connections with speeds of up to 1Gbps, while in Britain the fastest speeds are currently offered by Virgin Media, which is trialling 1.5Gbps speeds via the company’s cable infrastructure in the area of Old Street in East London.

concept network fibre chip abstract network broadband © Toria ShutterstockIn order to deliver this significant speed jump, Bangor University’s Ocean project is applying Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (OFDM) techniques to optical fibre, in what they call Optical OFDM (or OOFDM).

OFDM, a method for encoding digital data, has the advantage that it is already widely used in other settings – for instance, it is the technique used in DSL broadband for passing signals through copper wires, and is also used in digital television transmission and 4G mobile communications. OFDM’s widespread use means it is already well-understood in the industry and moreover that its exploitation in a commercial setting is already established.

OOFDM technology could be used to offer faster speeds over currently installed fibre networks, making it more cost-effective than systems which would involve modifying the encoding and decoding hardware or the fibre-optic cables themselves, and according to the university.

OOFDM also uses less power than other technologies offering similar speeds, the university said.

Same price

“Compared to today’s commercially available broadband connections, the technology is expected to provide end-users with both downloading and uploading speeds up to 2,000 times faster than current speeds and with a guaranteed quality of services at a price that subscribers are currently paying for their current 20Mb/s services, regardless of subscribers’ home location,” stated professor Jianming Tang of the university’s School of Electronic Engineering, one of the scientists leading the project. “Obviously, this will revolutionise communication technology.”

The Bangor University team said it has not only developed a technique for applying OFDM to fibre-optic networks, but has designed equipment capable of coding and decoding OOFDM signals on the fly.

“This is the only system that we know of in the world that we can demonstrate working in real-time – with a real-time transceiver and a real-time receiver,” Dr. Roger Giddings, one of the team running the project, told the BBC. Giddings said he expects the technology could allow fibre networks to reach bandwidths of 40GBps.

Giddings said he expects to have a working transciever and receiver module in another two years.

Bangor University is working with partners including Fujitsu Semiconductors Europe, Finisar Israel, Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute and VPIsystems GmbH on the three-year, €3m project, which is funded by the European Union.

Cheap rural broadband

In March another EU-funded project proposed that premises in rural area could have cheap 10 Gbps access, if operators switch their fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) networks to a structure based on rings. The claim came from a consortium of universities, research institutes, equipment vendors and a single telecom operator, who have banded together under the ‘scalable advanced ring-based passive dense access network architecture’ or Sardana project, backed by European Union funding to the tune of 2.6 euros (£2.1m).

BT said last week that it expects to complete the rollout of its Infinity fibre broadband product to two-thirds of the country in the spring of 2014, more than 18 months ahead of the original schedule.

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