Coherent subcarrier aggregation technology trialled in UK fibre roll-out

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UK cable operator Virgin Media has trialled network technology that provides new ways to roll out multi-gigabit speeds. 

In 2019, the company trialled 10Gb/s symmetric full-fibre home broadband technology in Papworth, Cambridgeshire. This new trial goes a step beyond that, demonstrating that the operator’s passive fibre optic access network (PON) – which provides multiple premises with full-fibre connections – could deliver 400Gb/s symmetrical services by making use of the latest technology.

It was carried out over the operator’s network in Reading, and involved the installation of prototype Infinera XR Optics technology. The new equipment plugs into the existing network and is able to send and receive data at higher speeds – reaching transfer rates of up to 400Gb/s in a single fibre.

Fibre optic networks transmit data from one point to another through a series of electrical switches and optical transceivers. These optical transceivers control where the information is sent and at what speed, ultimately determining how fast data can be sent from one point to another. In this trial, traditional transceivers were replaced with independently routable nyquist sub-carriers and coherent optical aggregation technology which split a single fibre optic cable into many connections, all taking a share of the huge capacity. This means a single fibre could be used to provide multi-gigabit speeds to many customers at the same time.

By using standard passive optical network technology, the transceivers can support higher speed data transfers and can be remotely upgraded and configured. This allows the network operator to make changes quickly and easily, paving the way for simple upgrades to consumer services in future.

Jeanie York, chief technology and information officer at Virgin Media, said: ‘Our next-generation network already offers gigabit connectivity to more than 7 million homes, but with data use and demand for hyperfast speeds surging, we’re continually investing in our network to prepare for whatever the future brings. Innovations like this ensure our customers continue to benefit from the UK’s fastest widely available speeds, pave the way for future network upgrades and help support the rollout of multi-gigabit broadband and mobile services.’

Dave Welch, Infinera chief innovation officer and co-founder added: ‘The trial with Virgin Media provides a solid proof point that Infinera’s XR optics technology can be seamlessly applied to existing networks. This represents a radical shift in the way networks can be built, promising a more flexible and sustainable way to meet the ever increasing need to transmit more data at higher speeds.’

The cable operator has also recently committed to hiring more than 400 new employees in graduate, intern and apprenticeship roles this year.

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