Institute of Communications and Connected Systems


ICCS researchers contribute to newly published research demonstrating intelligent optical networks

28 May 2021

ICCS researchers form part of the TRANSNET team that this week published new research demonstrating how optical networks could be intelligently managed in the future.

Image of fibre cables plugging into router, background image of city with many connections and nodes above the similar creating a complex network

Author: Ruth Milne, Transnet Communications Manager

Future Networks | Optical Communications | Intelligent Systems

Research published this week in Scientific Reports, co-authored by UCL researchers Professor Polina Bayvel and Dr Lidia Galdino, demonstrate the successful abstraction of an installed optical network, a technique that has the potential to transform how networks are intelligently controlled and managed in the future.

Optical networks form the backbone of our digital communications infrastructure, carrying data and connecting people and places around the world. Any communication over the Internet uses optical fibre technology and demand for data is growing all the time. However, the optical devices and fibres in the network have unknown exact characteristics at any instant in time. To deal with this, operators leave plenty of spare capacity to ensure sufficient margins for uncertainty, but this means that the overall capacity of the network is reduced.  

A team of researchers, including members of the Optical Networks Group at UCL, have developed a novel approach to measure network performance to allow capacity to be delivered where and when it is needed. By abstracting, or simplifying, the physical infrastructure of a network, the researchers provide an easier interpretation of how the network performs, potentially transforming how optical networks are controlled and managed in the future.  

To test their idea, the team conducted a series of network transmission experiments over the UK National Dark Fibre Facility (NDFF), an EPSRC funded National Research Facility that enables researchers to develop the underpinning communications technologies for the future Internet. The NDFF comprises a dedicated fibre infrastructure linking four universities: Bristol, Cambridge, Southampton, and UCL, which leads the consortium under the direction of ICCS member, Professor Alwyn Seeds.  

For this piece of work, experiments were carried out over an installed network between three of the four NDFF partners: The University of Cambridge, the University of Bristol, and University College London. All three locations were able to consistently abstract the physical components of the network. It was then demonstrated that the performance can be accurately predicted based on the abstracted experimental data, and the accuracy of the predicted performance was comparable to more computationally demanding methods. 

The research shows that an abstracted network provides a simple but robust approach to measure network performance that can be easily incorporated into the management of optical networks to enable information to be transmitted over the network more dynamically. The development and application of techniques like abstraction are essential if future networks are to deliver the fast and flexible capacity required to meet the ever-increasing data demands of a global, more digitally dependent society. 

The work, published this week in Scientific Reports, was led by the University of Cambridge along with UCL and in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Bristol and KDDI Research (Japan).  

The research is supported by three EPSRC funded projects: TRANSNET and UNLOC – both led by UCL’s Professor Polina Bayvel – and INSIGHT, led by Professor Seb Savory from Cambridge.