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New Telecom Architecture Promises To Increase Data Rates At Overall Reduced Costs

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FABULOUS (FDMA Access By Using Low-cost Optical Network Units in Silicon Photonics) is an EU funded project that aims to boost data speeds at lower costs to service providers. This is has the potential to make data services more affordable to end users over time. The Science and Technology Research News reports that the project says “its technology will allow higher bit rates – the speed at which basic units of information are processed – in computing and digital communications.”

The idea here is to integrate silicon photonics based components into current telecom infrastructure and according to the project website, the objectives of FABULOUS include;

  • Design, fabrication, characterization, optimization and monolithic/hybrid integration of photonic and electronic components to implement a low-cost/low power consumption R-ONU, using Silicon Photonics, CMOS/BiCMOS and III-V-on-silicon technologies. The final packaged device will integrate RX/TX functionality, electronic functions and optical amplification into a single chip.
  • Experimental study of the proposed NG-PON2 architecture and optimization of its many free parameters.
  • Development of a full system PON prototype carrying real Ethernet traffic to demonstrate the architecture effectiveness and to showcase the potential of Silicon Photonic devices into a realistic system testbed.
  • Disseminate the value of the proposed technology among the main equipment vendors because the electro-optic components developed in FABULOUS can find applications also in other PON architectures. The project already involves two external industrial partners (ZTE and NEC) that support this activity, interacting with the consortium partners and testing the FABULOUS electro-optic devices.

Silicon photonics which is an evolving technology itself uses optical rays for data transfer and carry data far more than electrical conductors which are currently widely used and deploying it in existing network infrastructure, we could be seeing higher data rates without significant investment from service providers. Last year, an Ericsson backed research focused on using this technology even in the coming 5G network and they found that chips built on silicon photonics can enhance network performance by increasing transmission speeds, switching and interconnectivity which is a basic requirement of the 5G network. 5G is expected to be 10-100 times faster than today’s average 4G LTE connections. That means you might be able to download a video files including your popular TV series in 3 seconds or less and what better way to achieve this at a reduced cost than this technology. Not to sound too theoretical, Ericsson went ahead to confirm that its awarding winning Hyperscale Datacenter System 8000 is an example where the silicon photonics technology was already being implemented with benefits even in the area of cost.  

The FABULOUS project further demonstrated by saying the use of the silicon photonics allows  each Optical Network Unit which can be seen as the device installed in the user’s location – to handle its dedicated data traffic alone, and not the full aggregated bit rate as is currently the case for other NG-PON2 technologies. It also showed how its technology can be used in Passive Optical Local Area Networks, as well as potentially being used in 5G networks.

Science and Technology Research News reports explained further that the FABULOUS project has created new silicon-based photonic integrated circuits, showing the potential of using silicon photonics in the telecommunications market. The project demonstrated a reflective upstream transmitter made of a silicon photonic integrated circuit (SiPIC). The system comprised a reflective Mach Zehnder modulator and its flip-chipped CMOS electronic integrated circuit driver. The two Integrated Circuits were linked using high-density, low-parasitic copper micro pillars.

The project is now working towards standardisation and a partnership with telecom equipment manufacturers who are important to the overall aim of the project. The 3GPP has released a timeline for the radio specifications of 5G and that time is 2018. Right now there are over 1.5 billion people who can’t afford internet service and in other cases, what is available is not efficient enough. If standardised, the project will be a win-win for the service provider and end user from a cost perspective.

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