State’s Exemplar network kicks off on a high note

6 Dec 2009

A significant piece of history was made last night in a distinctly Irish way. As Irish rock band Snow Patrol played to a packed St James’ Church in Dingle, the world’s first demonstration of optical burst technology by Irish firm Intunes was broadcast on a fibre-optic ring.

The performance for both Snow Patrol and Intune was a fitting fusion of digital culture – music composed in Ireland and technology created in Ireland – as well as a validation of the Government’s investment in a novel technology that could put Ireland at the pinnacle of future communications development.

Viewing the performance

At the church, the band gave a powerful and uplifting performance, while back at Benners Hotel, people watching the show via the Exemplar network praised the intimacy of the experience.

The Irish Government this year selected Intune to build the Exemplar Network that will be the route through which the future of global fibre and wireless communications may travel. The company is creating more than 300 new jobs on the back of the deal.

Dublin-based Intune Networks, formed in 1999 by a group of ex-UCD photonics researchers, has developed a technology that can enable a single strand of fibre to move from carrying one signal from one operator to carrying data from 80 telecoms and TV companies all at once. It plans to manufacture and export this product and answers a problem that technology giants AT&T, IBM, Cisco and Bell Labs have been trying to solve for 30 years or more.

The demo last night involved live, high-definition streaming from the Snow Patrol concert in the church to a number of locations in Dingle connected to a fibre-optic network.

In high-definition

The concert was viewed live in high definition on screens in Benners Hotel, and via Wi-Fi to laptops and mobile devices. Several other technology providers supplied user-access equipment to connect to the Intune network, including ADB, Magnet and Envivio.

What made this different to a normal broadcast was its delivery: over an optical burst packet switched fibre network that guarantees uninterrupted, premium-quality content – something that has been unachievable before now.

The Other Voices TV series, which features exclusive performances from St James’ Church in Dingle by acts such as Snow Patrol, Bell X1, The Magic Numbers and Fionn Regan, is also to appear on both MSN and Xbox Live as part of a deal between RTE and Microsoft.

What is optical burst technology?

John Dunne, co-founder and chief marketing officer of Intune, described the company’s optical burst technology as a form of virtualisation that allows multiple operators to serve businesses and consumers over the same fibre infrastructure.

Intune’s technology – the fruit of some US$50 million worth of R&D over 10 years – will play a critical role in the future of the telecoms industry and will allow operators to co-invest in next-generation networks.

“It’s pure economics,” Dunne explained. “Operators on their own cannot invest in this infrastructure and the only way forward is to share infrastructure.”

He explained that Intune’s technology, which sits on a fibre ring, features tunable laser systems that allows operators to colour-code packets of data, allowing telcos and future broadcast and gaming providers to charge accurately for the data services they deliver if a number of them are on the same network.

“Ireland could be the first country in the world to completely virtualise future fibre networks,” Dunne said, adding that one strand of fibre using the technology could feasibly carry hundreds, if not thousands, of next-generation media services.

By John Kennedy

Intune management team

Main photo: The band Snow Patrol.

Photo below: John Dunne, chief marketing officer, Tim Fritzley, CEO, and Tom Farrell, chief technology officer, of Intune Networks. The company is building a network technology that could soon be exported all over the world to speed up clogged-up networks.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years