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New optical receiver technology could slash the cost of FTTP

A team of researchers at University College London has developed a new design of optical receiver that they claim could dramatically reduce the costs of deploying FTTP broadband

The cost of deploying fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) ultrafast broadband services could be lowered dramatically using new optical networking technology developed and tested by a team of researchers at University College London (UCL).

Up to now, the cost of deploying fibre directly into every home has been a massive barrier to the roll-out of FTTP. This is partly because of the cost of laying cables, and partly because the optical receivers needed to read fibre-optic signals are complex devices and therefore too expensive to deploy on a large-scale national basis.

This means very few premises in the UK have access to an FTTP connection, and with BT’s infrastructure arm, Openreach, determined to forge ahead with copper-based G.fast technology instead of FTTP, this situation shows no sign of changing in the near future.

Working alongside the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) funded Unloc programme – a collaboration between UCL, the Aston Institute of Photonic Technologies and industry partners – the university’s Optical Networks Group has come up with a simplified device that lead researcher Sezer Erkilinc believes can be mass-produced cheaply, while maintaining the quality of the signal.

“The average data transmission rates of copper cables connecting homes are around 300Mbps and will soon become a major bottleneck in keeping up with data demands, which will likely reach about 5 to 10Gbps by 2025. Our technology can support speeds up to 10Gbps, making it truly future-proof,” said Erkilinc.

UCL’s receiver optical receiver is smaller and contains between 75% and 80% fewer components than the standard model, which means manufacture and maintenance costs are significantly reduced, it if can be commercialised

The technology behind the receivers

The team’s findings have now been published as a research paper in the Journal of Lightwave Technology.

The paper’s co-author Seb Savory – previously at UCL and now at the University of Cambridge – explained the technology behind the enhanced receivers.

“Our receiver is much simpler, containing just a quarter of the detectors used in a conventional coherent optical receiver,” said Savory.

“We achieved this by applying a combination of two techniques. First, a coding technique often used in wireless communications was used to enable the receiver to be insensitive to the polarisation of the incoming signals.

“Second, we deliberately offset the receiver laser from the transmitter laser with the additional benefit that this allows the same single optical fibre to be used for both upstream and downstream data.”

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The team has started work on investigating the laser stability of the unit, the next step towards a viable commercial prototype.

“Once we’ve quantified the laser stability, we will be in a strong position to take the receiver design through field trials and into commercialisation. It is so exciting to engineer something that may one day be in everyone’s homes and make them a part of the digital revolution,” said Erkilinc.

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An inevitable advance, but WOW nonetheless. This is really exciting. If only I were 20 again, with a lifetime ahead to witness all these advances. That ancient wish is endless and impossible, but so tempting nonetheless.
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