World’s fastest fibre-to-home network concept unveiled

11 Sep 2009

A Cork research lab has revealed the world’s most advanced fibre-to-the-home network concept which pushes the typical span of a fibre network from 20km to 100km and eliminates the need for electrical switches.

The new network solution, which could revolutionise fibre-to-the-home in the 21st century, was demonstrated today at the Tyndall National Institute in Cork in collaboration with BT, Alcatel-Lucent and Nokia-Siemens Networks.

The Photonic Integrated Extended Metro and Access Network (PIEMAN) is a collaborative research project funded under the “Broadband for All” strategic objective of the EU Information Societies Technologies 6th Framework Programme.

“High-speed optical fibre access networks are increasingly seen as the ultimate solution for supplying future broadband services to residential and business customers”, said Prof Paul Townsend, head of Photonics at Tyndall.

“In the PIEMAN project, we have pushed the boundaries of access network design to create a new type of large-scale, high-speed network that offers significant advantages compared to existing schemes.

The project has a value of €3.9m with a cost to the EU of €2.2m. PIEMAN is a radically new photonic (all optical) communication system, which aims to enable future broadband services for business and residential users at much higher bandwidths and lower costs than is possible today.

“In particular, by increasing the network span from around 20km that is typical today to as much as 100km, the new scheme eliminates the need for many of the electronic switches and repeaters used in current networks,” Townsend said.

Consequently, these new networks would potentially be much simpler and easier to manage with lower equipment and operational costs,” he explained.

The breakthrough resulted from an EU-funded research collaboration, called PIEMAN, between BT – the project co-ordinator, Alcatel-Lucent, Nokia-Siemens Networks, the Centre for Integrated Photonics (CIP), and Ghent University and Tyndall.

Welcoming the collaboration, the Minister for Science, Technology and Innovation Conor Lenihan commended the research partners on their successful results.

He went on to say “cutting-edge projects such as PIEMAN are helping to drive the development of next-generation networks, which are key enablers of the future smart economy.

“To enable the smart economy, Ireland needs a robust, reliable and dynamic communications network. The exciting developments demonstrated at Tyndall National Institute today confirm that we can have the critical mass of innovation to compete in the global telecommunications market,” said Lenihan.

The project partners are Tyndall National Institute (Ireland), BT, Alcatel-Lucent (Germany), Nokia-Siemens Networks (Germany), Centre for Integrated Photonics (UK), and the Ghent University INTEC lab associated with IMEC (Belgium).

“This new network has capabilities well beyond the fibre access networks being deployed commercially today,” Chris Clark, CEO of BT Ireland, explained.

“As well as extended span, the scheme increases both the number of users and the available bandwidths by as much as a factor of 10, compared to existing solutions.

“It also employs multiple colours of light to allow sharing of optical fibre and components across many sub-networks so that in total more than 16,000 customers can be supported from a single network hub. This potentially enables significant network simplification and cost reduction to be achieved,” Clark added.

By John Kennedy

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