Case studies

Next-generation optical networking

After playing a key role in the development of today’s telecommunications infrastructure, researchers at the Zepler Institute are now working on next-generation technology for even faster, higher capacity networks.

The erbium-doped fibre amplifier (EDFA), an essential component of today’s optical communications networks, was invented by Southampton researchers in the 1980s. Since then, Zepler Institute researchers have been further developing the technology and looking for a suitable next-generation fibre amplifier better able to cope with the ever increasing internet traffic in order to avoid a future capacity crunch. Current optical communications networks use light at a wavelength of around 1.5 µm, which is ideally suited to silica fibres and EDFAs. However, another potential transmission window is emerging at around 2µm which offers the possibility of delivering up to four times as much bandwidth and longer distances before the data traffic needs to be amplified.

Achieving these improvements in performance involves using thulium-doped fibre amplifiers (TDFAs) and special transmission fibre optimised for this new wavelength.

Zepler Institute researchers are pioneers in both these areas and hold records for data transmission at 2µm, as well as the highest data capacity through a hollow-core fibre, a completely new form of fibre with the potential for lower loss than existing solid fibres. With the continuing rapid growth of the internet, the technologies being developed at the Zepler Institute aim to radically transform today’s ICT infrastructure to meet long-term data capacity needs.