£4.9 million grant awarded for UK dark fibre research facility

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The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has committed a £4.9 million grant to fund a national research facility to support UK researchers in creating communications networks for the future.

As well as supporting research on future core optical networks, the facility will also enable research with experimental metro networks, including a new small mesh network in the Cambridge area and interworking with Layer 2 through dark fibre connections to the first software defined network Exchange at Slough Virtus.  It will support research on quantum communications in collaboration with the UK Quantum Technology Hub for Quantum Communications and on wireless backhaul networks for future wireless systems.

The five-year contract for the National Dark Fibre Facility (NDFF) was awarded to University College London (UCL) as prime contractor for a consortium, which includes the Universities of Bristol, Cambridge and Southampton.

The NDFF will provide access to a dedicated software defined dark fibre network using dual optical fibre connections between these universities, with an onward connection to European and worldwide research networks via Telehouse, London. The fibre links, comprising 750km of single mode fibre, together with control and monitoring systems, will be provided to NDFF through continued close collaboration with the Jisc-Joint Academic Network, Janet. UK researchers will be able to access this network – Aurora 3 – physically, by placing equipment at consortium sites and remotely, using Layer 2 networking connections, such as the Jisc Netpath service.

The facility builds on previous work carried out by the consortium, which led to the creation of the EPSRC and Jisc funded National Dark Fibre Infrastructure Service (NDFIS). NDFIS was the world's first optical fibre research network to offer software defined transmission parameters, dynamic reconfiguration into multiple sub-networks with the ability to handle multiple transmission formats simultaneously.

NDFF director, professor Alwyn Seeds from UCL Electronic and Electrical Engineering commented: ‘We are delighted that UKRI-EPSRC have supported the creation of the new National Dark Fibre Facility. This will enable UK researchers to remain at the forefront of technology research for the future internet. We will be working with leading UK companies to transfer technologies developed with the aid of NDFF into new products and services. The benefits to the UK economy will be correspondingly large.’

NDFF technical director, professor Dimitra Simeonidou from the University of Bristol added: ‘The National Dark Fibre Facility will be a fundamental asset for driving Future Networks Research, maintaining the UK’s leadership in the field. NDFF is designed to carry a large number of parallel independent experiments, at the same time, and will facilitate inter- connectivity of academic and industrial facilities beyond the Dark Fibre footprint, through Jisc Layer 2 services with a national reach. NDFF will enable University researchers and UK Industry to carry out collaborative research at scale to address future digital infrastructure challenges such as connectivity, IoT, data, cyber and quantum security, resilience, automation etc.’

Image: Network logical diagram

Credit: National Dark Fibre Facility (NDFF) 

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