Photonics start-up raises €300k to tackle web’s best-kept secret

4 Apr 2012

Pilot Photonics spin-out company from research teams at DCU and the Tyndall Institute in Cork has raised €300,000 from Enterprise Ireland and AIB Seed Capital fund.

The investment will allow company directors Dr Philip Perry and Dr Frank Smyth to find a route to market for their optical networking technology which has the potential to dramatically increase the speed of the internet.

Enterprise Ireland’s commercialisation funding allowed the technology inventors, Perry, Smyth, Dr Prince Anandarajah, Prof Liam Barry from DCU and Prof Andrew Ellis from Tyndall, to bring the commercially-relevant aspects of their work to a spin-out ready state.

The subsequent seed investment now starts the spin-out on the road to commercially exploiting the technology.

Pilot Photonics is developing technology that allows more information to be packed into existing optical fibres by cleverly bonding together several data channels in the fibre, cutting down on wasted bandwidth. Their first product to enable these so-called “Super Channels” is an Optical Wavelength Comb Source and they are developing further technologies that will also reduce cost and power consumption.

The web’s best-kept secret

“One of the best-kept secrets is that the accessible bandwidth of the optical fibre that makes up the core of the internet is almost full – there’s very little spare capacity in there,” said Perry, CEO of Pilot Photonics.

“Using our technology, you can get more data down existing fibre-optic cables rather than having to dig up roads to lay new fibre.”

The need for faster and more efficient optical fibre links will continue to grow, particularly as end users of the internet move to cloud computing and video-intensive applications.

“You will have a server, say, in Germany, that has to communicate with some other server that is in London, so you need very high capacity, low-delay connection,” Perry explained.

“We breathe new life into their systems so that network operators will be able to get more value out of their existing investment.”

Pilot Photonics launched its first comb source product at the world’s largest optical fibre communications conference and exhibition in Los Angeles in March, which produces multiple wavelengths from a single laser.

“If the channels all come from the same source you can pack them tighter together,” Perry said.

“By carefully selecting the number of channels and their speed, we can significantly reduce cost and the power consumption for network operators. For the end user of the internet it means a faster, higher quality link through the internet.”

The new technology is compatible with the existing optical fibres that currently connect countries and continents around the world, according to Perry, and Pilot Photonics is now working with equipment vendors as they develop new approaches to support better internet connections over the next decade.

“The response we got in LA this month is fantastic,” Perry added.

“We have the right technology at the right time and we have started to engage with key global players.”

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