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UK funds 'future telecommunications' challenge projects

27 Feb 2024

PureLiFi, Fraunhofer, Alter, and Vector Photonics among those sharing in £22 million research effort.

Several cutting-edge optics and photonics technologies have been selected for funding as part of the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)-supported “future telecommunications” challenge.

Among the 16 projects sharing a total of £22 million provided by the government agency are efforts headed up by PureLiFi, the Fraunhofer Centre for Applied Photonics (CAP), Vector Photonics, and Alter Technology.

UKRI said that the research projects selected include development of the world's first all-optical network switch for ultra-low power, ultra-low latency future networks, while a further £40 million has been allocated to support for three existing “future telecoms” hubs headed up by Imperial College London, the University of Bristol, and Oxford and Cambridge universities.

In addition, a national infrastructure for future telecoms testing and development - linked to the UK National Dark Fibre Facility - is being created.

Julia Lopez, the UK’s current Minister for Data and Digital Infrastructure, said in a UKRI release: “This £70 million funding boost will help drive the UK’s efforts to bring forward the next wave of future telecoms technology - one of our five critical technologies.”

Alongside telecommunication the UK's other four identified "critical technologies" are artificial intelligence, engineering biology, semiconductors, and quantum technologies - with all five set for elevated support through 2030.

LiFi to satcoms
Of the 16 research efforts funded, at least six revolve around optics and photonics. They include the photonic computing startup Finchetto, which is leading the project charged with developing the world-first all-optical network switch referred to above.

Several of the other research efforts will be taking place in Scotland, with Edinburgh-based PureLiFi heading up “Energy efficient LiFi module for 6G applications”, and Glasgow’s Fraunhofer CAP taking the lead on “MIST”, short for mid-infrared free-space telecommunications.

Vector Photonics, another Glasgow firm, will also be working on free-space optical communications, this time through the deployment of its own proprietary “photonic crystal surface-emitting laser (PCSEL)” technology.

In addition to those efforts, Alter Technology’s UK division - another based in Scotland - will lead on the “CAPTIVATE” (co-packaged optical transceiver for space telecommunications), while Oxford’s Archangel Lightworks heads up “Illuminate”, which will aim to connect space and ground optical networks to provide massive data throughput.

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