The University of Southampton

Triple recognition for Southampton's next generation optical communications

Published: 26 March 2020
Yu Wang presented her work developing wideband bismuth (Bi)-doped fibre amplifiers.

Ground-breaking research into hollow-core fibres and optical amplifiers at the Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC) has been highlighted in three postdeadline papers at the world's leading conference for optical communications.

Scientists from the research centre, part of the University of Southampton's Zepler Institute for Photonics and Nanoelectronics, presented findings to industry and academic leaders at this month's Optical Fibre Conference (OFC) 2020 in San Diego.

ORC researchers are driving an international collaboration that is rapidly realising the full potential of hollow-core fibre technology. Two of the selected papers at OFC 2020 demonstrated how the latest experiments have halved the fibres' data attenuation and doubled their maximum transmission distance.

In the third postdeadline paper, postgraduate research student Yu Wang presented her work developing wideband bismuth (Bi)-doped fibre amplifiers for increased bandwidth optical communications.

Professor David Richardson, Deputy Director of the ORC, says: "I am extremely proud that three postdeadline papers from the ORC were presented at OFC this year. The postdeadline session, which includes the very latest results from the international photonics community, is one of the highlights of the conference, and the paper selection process is fiercely competitive. Only 21 papers were selected for presentation this year and that three of them were authored by the ORC is testament to the world-leading research underway at the University of Southampton.

"The pioneering work in each of these papers is directed towards developing new optical fibre technologies capable of supporting a higher-capacity, faster future internet. The social and commercial demand for this is being evidenced by the COVID-19 epidemic, with so many of us currently forced to work remotely from our own homes and hence ultimately reliant on the world’s optical fibre communication networks."

Advances in hollow-core fibre technology presented at OFC 2020 are being generated through the Southampton-based Airguide Photonics programme, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, and the LightPipe project funded by the European Research Council. The novel fibres, which replace conventional glass cores with gas or a vacuum, hold unique properties including faster light speed and reduced sensitivity to environmental variations.

In the space of 18 months, the attenuation in data-transmitting hollow-core fibres has been reduced by over a factor of 10, from 3.5dB/km to only 0.28 dB/km. At the same time, the maximum transmission distance at which large bandwidth data streams can be transmitted has been improved by over 10 times, from 75 to 750km. At this current rate of improvement, hollow-core performance will soon surpass current optical fibres.

Yu Wang is advancing her research into fibre amplifiers as one of the ORC's prestigious II-VI foundation, USA sponsored PhD students, with the work again part sponsored by the Airguide Photonics programme. Her project is aiming to offer an immediate solution to the explosive growth of global internet data traffic.

"It feels like a remarkable step to be selected as a postdeadline paper at this prestigious conference as a PhD student," she says. "This has really encouraged me to keep moving in this scientific research.

"The capacity demands of the modern optical communication systems are continuously increasing. To meet this requirement, one can develop efficient amplifiers which work outside the currently used C- and L-bands to access additional bandwidth.

"Prior to my work, there was no existing efficient amplifier which could provide sufficient gain over such a large range in the O- and E-bands. In future work, we will focus on further enhancing the gain and noise figure performance of our broadband bi-doped fibre amplifiers, while also undertaking experiments that will test their suitability for high speed data transmission and assessing the potential for commercialisation."

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