Bristol is set to host a new laboratory exploring new communications networks technologies for the future internet.

The University of Bristol’s Smart Internet Lab along with a consortium of universities have been awarded a £4.9 million grant from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) for the National Dark Fibre Facility (NDFF).

Over the next five years the lab will work with the Universities of Cambridge, Southampton and UCL as well as industrial partners on next generation optical networks and on wireless backhaul networks for future Wireless Systems such as 5G+ and the internet of things. It will also work with the Quantum Technology Hub for Quantum Communications.

“The National Dark Fibre Facility will be a fundamental asset for driving Future Networks Research, maintaining the UK’s leadership in the field,” said Professor Dimitra Simeonidou from the University of Bristol, Technical director of the NDFF.

“NDFF is designed to carry a large number of parallel independent experiments, at the same time, and will facilitate inter- connectivity of academic and industrial facilities beyond the Dark Fibre footprint,” she said. “NDFF will enable University researchers and UK Industry to carry out collaborative research at scale to address future digital infrastructure challenges such as connectivity, IoT, data, cyber and quantum security, resilience, automation etc.”

The NDFF will provide access to a dedicated software-defined Dark Fibre Network using dedicated dual optical fibre connections between these universities, with onward connection to European and Worldwide research networks via Telehouse, London. These fibre links, comprising some 750 km of single mode fibre, together with control and monitoring systems, will be provided to NDFF through continued close collaboration with the Janet academic network.

Researchers in the UK will be able to access the new network, to be named Aurora 3, both directly by placing equipment at consortium sites and remotely using Layer 2 networking connections, such as the Jisc Netpath service.

The new service builds on previous work carried out by the consortium, which led to the creation of the EPSRC and Jisc funded National Dark Fibre Infrastructure Service (NDFIS). NDFIS was the world’s first optical fibre research network to offer software defined transmission parameters, dynamic reconfiguration into multiple sub-networks with the ability to handle multiple transmission formats simultaneously.

As well as supporting research on the future core optical network, which underpins the internet, NDFF will also enable research with experimental metro and access networks, including a new small mesh network in the Cambridge area and interworking with Layer 2 through dark fibre connections to the first software defined network Exchange (SDNx) at Slough Virtus Data Centre.

The Smart Internet Lab is one of the world’s leading labs working on smart city and IoT technologies