New research commissioned by the European Union (EU) underscores the importance of micro fluidics and silicon photonics for remote fibre management. According to the study, these technologies could be used in new fibre optic switching technologies, and potentially automate manual processes and reduce energy costs across the telecommunications spectrum.
The research quotes the Cisco forecast that the number of connected devices per person globally could nearly double in five years. As networks add more bandwidth, the number of optical fibre connections is growing significantly. The rise of social platforms, rapid growth in cloud computing and sensors for the Internet of Things are driving the need for more connections that are faster.
To keep up with increased demands for fibre optic switching technology, communications infrastructure developer CommScope and its consortium of industrial, research and academic partners launched SwIFT (optical Switch combining Integrated photonics and Fluidics Technologies), a project of the EU’s 7th Framework Programme for Information and Communications Technology ICT (FP7). The aim was to develop a low cost solution for automatic and remote fibre management. The EU granted €1.85 million to fund this project.
“Combining micro fluidics and silicon photonics could give us information in a blink of an eye,” suggests Jan Watté, SwIFT project coordinator and CommScope Group Leader of Strategic Engineering and Research & Development in Europe. “Dramatic energy savings, reduced floor occupation in the central office and redesigned closures could create a paradigm shift for network operators. The SwIFT concept findings lay the groundwork for further development of industry specifications – we see a huge opportunity for the telecommunications industry, especially for network and data centre operators.”
Connector rich patch panels currently implemented in fibre networks require operators to manually configure connector plugs in the central office and field. By combining silicon photonics and microfluidics, a similar technology to that successfully implemented in e-readers, network operators could potentially use software to patch and re-patch cables.
“To keep up with the always on generation, technologies for communications have grown faster, smaller and more cost effective, yet this has not been the case for optical fibre connections,” adds CommScope Vice President of Strategic Engineering Peter Merlo. “After four years of research, we are a step closer to a concept that has the potential to reduce operational expenses associated with installing, provisioning and maintaining the embedded fibre plant and optical connections.”
The FP7 effort bundles research-related EU initiatives together under a common roof, playing an important role in reaching the goals of growth, competitiveness and employment. Consortium members are: Imec (Belgium), Bartels Mikrotechnik (Germany), Technische Universitat Ilmenau (Germany), the Tyndall National Institute (Ireland), TDC (Denmark), CommScope and Fundico (Belgium).