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EU Project Underscores Importance Of Photonics And Microfluidics

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Combining micro fluidics and silicon photonics could give us information in a blink of an eye, says SwIFT study

New research commissioned by the European Union (EU) underscores the importance of micro fluidics and silicon photonics for remote fibre management. New fibre optic switching technologies could potentially automate manual processes and reduce energy costs across telecommunications, according to the study.

The number of connected devices per person globally is expected to 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, CommScope and its consortium of industrial, research and academic partners launched SwIFT (optical Switch combining Integrated photonics and Fluidics Technologies), a €1.85 million project of the EU’s 7th Framework Programme for Information and Communications Technology ICT (FP7).

Started four years ago, the project aims to develop a compact, multi-port optical switch fabric based on fluidics. By integrating silicon photonics and fluidics, it hopes to deliver a solution that is needed by telecom operators to enable future, flexible and manageable networks, from data centres to core and access networks.

“Combining micro fluidics and silicon photonics could give us information in a blink of an eye," said Jan Watté, SwIFT project coordinator and group leader of strategic engineering and research & development in Europe, CommScope. “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 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 what has been successfully implemented in e-readers, network operators could potentially use software to patch and repatch 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," said Peter Merlo, vice president of strategic engineering, CommScope. “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 Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) bundles research-related EU initiatives together under a common roof, playing a crucial 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).


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