Essex to pioneer life in the fast lane

July 28, 2000

A multimillion-pound start-up company based at the University of Essex was launched last week with the aim of removing bottlenecks from the world's global optical networks.

Ilotron is a telecommunications company built on ground-breaking research by telecommunications engineers in the university's department of electronic systems engineering.

Mike O'Mahoney, head of the research team at the university and leading expert in the application of dense wave division multiplexing (DWDM) at the network level, said that Ilotron aimed to launch the world's first all-optical core network router for telecommunications networks.

Mr O'Mahoney said this field was set for rapid expansion as operators geared up for big investments in optical circuits to meet demand from internet traffic.

A Pounds 6 million investment from European venture capitalist 3i makes Ilotron the largest and most significant start-up company to have been established at the university.

The company has created 15 jobs in the engineering centre at the university's Colchester campus. It is sponsoring a PhD student and two academic projects in the department. The company is also working with the University of Strathclyde in a triangular arrangement that includes Essex.

Baroness Warwick, chief executive of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, opened Ilotron's Pounds 1 million on-campus engineering centre and optical laboratory.

Stuart Barnes, Ilotron director of engineering, said: "We've combined some very good knowledge with experienced hands from the telecoms sector in the United Kingdom. We will be at the leading edge of the sector."

The development of the optical router is the key to next-generation networks, all aiming for high bandwidth provision employing DWDM. This technology makes use of the whole light spectrum to vastly increase the amount of data that can be sent along a single optic fibre.

At the moment, the traditional transport domain puts roadblocks in the way of high-speed voice and data traffic. Imagine a fibre-optic signal flying down the fibre motorway. It is taken through a series of toll booths, slowed down and then a traffic policeman decides whether to take the signal off the road or to allow it to proceed. The photonic signal is converted to electrons and back again.

This is fine for point-to-point traffic, but in a telecoms network, 80 per cent of backbone traffic will be forwarded to another destination. Ilotron aims to keep traffic in the photonic domain, with no conversion. The motorway is kept clear of obstruction and traffic moves at high speed.

The company's first product will be the optical cross-connect or wavelength router. This will be followed by products that allow networks to take the bursts of voice and data traffic generated by internet applications and handle them in the most efficient way. In effect, the products will bring intelligence to a dumb network.


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