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New Dark Fibre Communications Research Service to power the future internet

Software defined optical network funded by EPSRC and Janet will enable researchers to create vital underpinning communications technologies.

A new National Dark Fibre Infrastructure Service (NDFIS) is to be set up to enable researchers to develop the underpinning communications technologies for the future internet. The UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has provided £2.5 Million to fund the project. Following a competitive tendering process, the 5 year contract for NDFIS has been awarded to UCL as prime contractor for a consortium comprising the Universities of Bristol, Cambridge and Southampton. NDFIS will provide access to a dedicated dark fibre network connecting these universities, with onward connection to European and Worldwide research networks via telecommunications facilities in London. The network will be engineered with equipment that can be configured remotely and dynamically, and will be an example of a Software Defined Network (SDN). These fibre connections, comprising some 800 km of single mode fibre, together with control and monitoring systems, will be provided to NDFIS by Janet, part of the Jisc group, funded by BIS through its e-Infrastructure programme. Researchers in the UK will be able to access the new network, to be named Aurora2, both directly by placing equipment at consortium sites and remotely using the Janet Lightpath service.

Dark fibre is optical fibre that users can access at the optical data level rather than the electrical data level as in conventional communications networks. Access at the optical level enables users to experiment with novel communication techniques, such as high order optical modulation or quantum communication. The new service builds on previous work carried out by the consortium using a fixed path dark fibre network, Janet Aurora. The new network will offer programmable transmission parameters, dynamic reconfiguration into multiple sub-networks and the ability to handle multiple transmission formats simultaneously.

As well as supporting research on the future core optical network, which underpins the internet, NDFIS will also enable research with experimental metro networks, such as the Gigabit Bristol network. NDFIS will also support research on wireless backhaul networks for future Wireless Systems such as 5G.

NDFIS Director, Professor Alwyn Seeds from UCL Electronic and Electrical Engineering said:

Professor Alwyn Seeds, Director of the National Dark Fibre Infrastructure Service with optical networking equipment at UCLWe are delighted that the EPSRC and Janet have enabled the creation of the new National Dark Fibre Infrastructure Service. This will enable UK researchers to remain at the forefront of technology research for the future internet. UK Photonics and UK electronics are large industries with annual revenues of £10 billion and £29 billion respectively. We will be working with leading UK companies to transfer technologies developed with the aid of NDFIS into new products and services. The benefits to the UK economy will be correspondingly large."

NDFIS Technical Director, Professor Dimitra Simeonidou from University of Bristol said:

Professor Dimitra Simeonidou, Technical Director of the National Dark Infrastructure Service at the University of Bristol. "NDFIS will be a platform for experimentation and collaboration across ICT disciplines and User Communities. The platform will use Software Defined Network (SDN) control principles and, as such, will be fully programmable by experimenters and end-users. Internationally, NDFIS will be the first experimental infrastructure of this kind and will generate new exciting opportunities to pioneer the development of hardware and software technologies for future communication systems"

Dr David Salmon, Research Support Unit Manager, Strategic Technologies, Janet said:

"Janet is delighted to be able to work with our funding partners and research colleagues to implement this important new facility. It will form the foundation of a very rich multi-layer environment now emerging in the UK within which new network techniques and technologies can be investigated. The funding commitments give us a stable forward-look for the next five years, which in turn will encourage strong collaborations to form and exploit the facility to develop these techniques and the applications that will make use of them"

For more information or to speak to the Director of NDFIS, Professor Alwyn Seeds, please contact Tim Bodley-Scott:

Tel: +44 (0) 20 7679 3976, e-mail:


The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the UK’s main agency for funding research in engineering and the physical sciences. EPSRC invests around £800 million a year in research and postgraduate training, to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change. The areas covered range from information technology to structural engineering, and mathematics to materials science. This research forms the basis for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone’s health, lifestyle and culture. EPSRC works alongside other Research Councils with responsibility for other areas of research. The Research Councils work collectively on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK.

About Janet and Jisc

Jisc offers digital services and solutions for UK education and research. The charity does this to achieve its vision for the UK to be the most digitally advanced education and research nation in the world.

Working together across the higher education, further education and skills sectors, Jisc provides trusted advice and support, reduces sector costs across shared network, digital content, IT services and procurement negotiations, ensuring the sector stays ahead of the game with research and development for the future.

Janet, part of the Jisc group, has the primary aim of providing and developing a network infrastructure and related services that meet the needs of the UK research and education communities.

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About UCL (University College London)

Founded in 1826, UCL was the first English university to be established after Oxford and Cambridge, the first to admit students regardless of race, class, religion or gender and the first to provide systematic teaching of law, architecture and medicine.

We are among the world's top universities, as reflected by our performance in a range of international rankings and tables. According to the Thomson Scientific Citation Index, UCL is the second most highly cited European university and the 15th most highly cited in the world.

UCL has nearly 27,000 students from 150 countries and more than 9,000 employees, of whom one third are from outside the UK. The university is based in Bloomsbury in the heart of London, but also has two international campuses – UCL Australia and UCL Qatar. Our annual income is more than £800 million. | Follow us on Twitter @uclnews | Watch our YouTube channel

About UCL Electronic and Electrical Engineering

The Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering at UCL was the first department of Electrical Engineering to be established in England, founded in 1885, and now comprises some 200 researchers working on topics in communications and information systems, electronic materials and devices, optical networks, photonics and sensors, systems and circuits, with turnover exceeding £14 million. It has consistently been rated among the top ten UK Departments in its subject area in the UK Government's Research Assessment Exercise. In 2009, alumnus Sir Charles K. Kao received the Nobel Prize for Physics for his invention of low loss optical fibres and their application to global communication systems. Since 2011 the Department has been awarded three EPSRC Programme Grants, totalling £18 million for work in photonic information and communication technologies and nanoelectronic quantum devices. In 2012 the department was awarded ‘Electronic and Electrical Engineering Department of the Year’ in the European Electronics Industry Awards.

About The University of Bristol

The University of Bristol is consistently ranked among the leaders in UK higher education. Research-intensive and with an international reputation for quality and innovation, the University has over 18,000 students from over 100 countries, together with more than 5,000 staff. Places at Bristol are among the most highly sought after of all UK universities.

The University was founded in 1876 and was granted its Royal Charter in 1909. It was the first university in England to admit women on the same basis as men. It is located in the heart of the city from which it grew, but is now a significant player on the world stage as well as a major force in the economic, social and cultural life of Bristol and South West England.

Bristol is a member of the Worldwide Universities Network and of the Russell Group of leading research-intensive universities in the UK.

About The University of Bristol, Faculty of Engineering

The Faculty of Engineering currently has about 125 members of academic staff, 100 research staff, 120 administrative and technical staff and around 1500 undergraduate and 600 postgraduate students. The Faculty is comprised of two schools; the Merchant Venturers' School of Engineering (encompassing the Departments of Computer Science, Electrical & Electronic Engineering and Engineering Mathematics) and the Queen's School of Engineering (including the Departments of Aerospace Engineering, Civil Engineering and Mechanical Engineering). The Faculty has strong links with local industry, as well as Government departments and research establishments. The Faculty also has strong international links, and has had a strong presence in EC research programmes for many years.

The High Performance Networks group, led by Professor Simeonidou, specialises in the application of advanced hardware and software network technologies to future optical and layer 2 communication networks,HPN is an international leader and highly influential in the fields of Optical Networks, Future Internet Research and Experimentation (FIRE), Grid and Cloud computing. Over the years the group has made significant breakthroughs in technology areas such as optical routing, optical packet and burst switching. Since the mid-2000’s HPN introduced fundamental concepts regarding the use of optical networking for computational applications building the foundations of High Performance Clouds. More recently the group pioneered the application of Software Defined Networking in optical networks and has actively contributed towards the establishment of the new standards, technology demonstrations with industrial collaborators, and a number of invited journal publications, conferences and plenaries.

About Cambridge University

The mission of the University of Cambridge is to contribute to society through the pursuit of education, learning, and research at the highest international levels of excellence.

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The Department of Engineering is the largest department at the University of Cambridge and one of the leading centres of engineering in the world. Renowned for both its teaching and research, the Department's aim is to address the world's most pressing challenges with science and technology. To achieve this aim, the Department collaborates with other disciplines, institutions, companies and entrepreneurs.

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About the University of Southampton

The University of Southampton is a leading UK teaching and research institution with a global reputation for leading-edge research and scholarship across a wide range of subjects in engineering, science, social sciences, health and humanities.

With over 23,000 students, around 5,000 staff, and an annual turnover well in excess of £435 million, the University of Southampton is acknowledged as one of the country's top institutions for engineering, computer science and medicine. We combine academic excellence with an innovative and entrepreneurial approach to research, supporting a culture that engages and challenges students and staff in their pursuit of learning.

About the University of Southampton’s Optoelectronics Research Centre

The Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC) at the University of Southampton is one of the largest university-based research centres entirely devoted to optoelectronics in the world. Publishing about 200 journal papers per year, the ORC has maintained a position at the forefront of photonics research for over five decades: it is the birthplace of the optical amplifier and the optical fibre technology which underpins the Internet, fuelling its explosive growth. The ORC’s award-winning research in the fields of optical fibre, lasers, waveguides, devices and optoelectronic materials has fostered innovation, enterprise, cross-boundary and multi-disciplinary activities world-wide.