INSIGHT: Introducing Insight into the Abstraction of Optical Network Infrastructures

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Electronic and Electrical Engineering


The unprecedented growth of optical fibre infrastructure in recent decades has underpinned telecommunications and the Internet, making possible broadband communications, e-commerce, video-on-demand and streaming media, tele-presence and high performance distributed computing. It has dramatically changed the whole landscape of public, business and government activities, stimulating relentless traffic growth. This necessitates a clear strategy to sustain the growth in information-carrying digital communications infrastructure. Infrastructure is the backbone of our economydigital communication infrastructure needs urgent attention since it underpins almost every aspect of economy and society. It should be flexible, adaptable, capable of continuous and smooth evolution with well-understood performance limits over its full life-cycle. This outline proposal addresses the first of the main cross cutting challenges of TI3 - The communications bottleneck. A future intelligent information infrastructure needs to intelligently manage massive amounts of data, to ensure efficient communications and exploit the content and information that will be available. It is in this context that we view this proposal as vital to the development of the future of information society. The role of fibre communications, providing the capacity for the lion's share of the total information traffic, is vital. However, to make the most efficient use of the optical fibre infrastructure requires that it can be accessed transparently, and on demand, by users, data, services and applications. To ensure this requires a completely different approach to the design of the communications infrastructure. It requires the optical resources (which include transmitters, receivers, fibre communication channels and routers) to be abstracted in a way to ensure the seamlessness of resource. The infrastructure will be treated as a service, accessible over the cloud. Optical layer capabilities such as capacity, latency, and spectrum availability could then be abstracted, become transparently accessible by using a unified interface. This requires the development of a new framework capable of uniformly representing and abstracting the heterogeneous optical resources in the optical layer, taking into account the various attributes and constraints of the optical infrastructure. Current optical network abstraction and virtualization research activities have focused on optical systems which are designed and optimised to have a fixed number of channels communicating at a given speed optimised over a defined set of distances. However, to maximise the use of optical infrastructure requires a flexible approach about how it is allocated, for how long and at what rate. The complexity and adaptability of advance optical communication systems (variable and adaptive modulation formats, rates, flexible nodes, etc.) pose numerous challenges on choosing the suitable description format and level of abstraction. Such process will simplify the control of underlying complex optical systems and in turn transparently provide services to the users with diverse business models and needs in a flexible, reconfigurable and intelligent. The framework developed in the course of will have insight about how to maximise the capacity of the infrastructure, whilst minimising energy and delay enabling transformational applications and services to be delivered intelligently and seamlessly.

Planned Impact

It is forecast that by 2020 the number of network-connected devices will reach 1000 times the world's population. This huge number of connected devices coupled with the rapid rise of BigData and Cloud-based services will result in increasingly vast volumes (zettabytes and upwards)of data being transported across networks with requirements for intelligent connectivity and flexible, possibly predictive, resource allocation (spectrum, energy, etc.). At the same time we are rapidly approaching fundamental limits in both network and information handling capacity which coupled with CO2 footprint. This emerging reality will necessitate new infrastructure management models, which will substantially decrease system complexity and deliver optimal end-to-end system performance and efficiency.

INSIGHT is focused on one of the society's greatest technical challenges and economic drivers with impact on public, business and government activities. Not only will it be an excellent springboard for research training, it will generate high-technology knowledge and enable an international leading high-speed optical network experimental infrastructure. The major beneficiaries will be: (i) Telecommunications/data service providers: The results of this research will aid to both traditional carriers and internet service providers in planning and evolving their networks, whilst maximising efficiency of the existing infrastructure and the capacity, flexibility and intelligence of future communications systems.(ii) Equipment manufacturers and vendors are facing the overall challenge of providing the necessary capacity to satisfy the growing data demands in the most cost-effective way and flexible way. The results of INSIGHT will be invaluable in designing the equipment to serve the infrastructure of tomorrow, maximising the speed, flexibility, intelligence and minimising the energy use. The results of the research will inform their R&D directions, including the development of new fibre and its choice for transmission. (iii) Policy makers: The internet underpins by lowering the costs of communication and has enabled new business models and services that have benefited consumers. For this trend to continue requires the provision of an intelligent information infrastructure to support the new services and its growth in a planned and sustainable manner. The results of INSIGHT will be invaluable in informing and guiding policy in this area, key for the nation's economic success.

In collaboration with project partners BT and Polatis, we shall take advantage of the existing expertise available at UCL and Bristol for the communication, protection and exploitation of our results. We have included funding to cover the travel and other activities for the engagement with policy makers and website to communicate the key achievements. We will be able to make use of the pathways to impact developed under the programme grant activities and at UCL using the EPSRC-funded impact acceleration hub 'Breakthrough Information Technology Exchange' (BITE), set up to build on UCL's key areas of research strength in ICT to strengthen UCL's knowledge exchange activities. The aims of the BITE Hub align perfectly with INSIGHT - to place a greater commercial focus on research in the ICT area, accelerating and increasing impact through linking these diverse activities into a more strategic programme.

Finally, INSIGHT is complementary to the programme grants in UCL (UNLOC - focused on the nonlinear optical channel and optical and signal processing techniques to maximising its capacity) and Bristol (Hyperhighway - focused on the new fibre and amplifiers and their network applications). Together with UCL and Bristol Centres for Doctoral Training, the resultant portfolio of projects will add value, and provide research themes vital to effectively solve the challenges of TI3, and beyond.


10 25 50
publication icon
Alvarado A (2016) On the Impact of Optimal Modulation and FEC Overhead on Future Optical Networks in Journal of Lightwave Technology

publication icon
Ives D (2016) Using 25 GbE Client Rates to Access the Gains of Adaptive Bit- and Code-Rate Networking in Journal of Optical Communications and Networking

publication icon
Mitra A (2016) Network Equipment and Their Procurement Strategy for High Capacity Elastic Optical Networks in Journal of Optical Communications and Networking

Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
EP/L026155/1 31/12/2014 31/01/2016 £758,099
EP/L026155/2 Transfer EP/L026155/1 01/05/2016 31/12/2018 £590,487
Description Software defined networks Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Invited to present project INSIGHT to the joint JISC/Toucan software defined networks workshop. The workshop brought together network researchers from computing and engineering backgrounds. There were many discussions about the future of software defined networks and what if anything is holding them back from mainstream applications. The workshop aimed to influence future research directions.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015