Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Optical communications

This research area focuses on novel techniques and systems for transporting information by fibre-guided or free-space photons, including analogue and digital signals.

Partners involved:
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

The scope and what we're doing

This research area aims to increase the capacity, speed, flexibility, availability, efficiency and security of optical communications on all length scales, from sub-micron (intra-chip) to mega-metres (transoceanic links).

Research in this area can include, for example:

  • optical signal generation and processing for advanced modulation formats
  • transmission and switching – including wavelength, space, polarisation and time division multiplexing.

This area also addresses intelligent networking, including integration with wireless communications and non-linear optical techniques.

The strategy for this research area recognises the UK strength in this area and the contribution it makes to the communication of information in an increasingly connected world.

The UK community is in a good position to respond to challenges originating from future demands to increase capacity in the optical communications network. This is because of the continued development of information and communications technologies (ICT) under the influence of both big data and the internet of things.

Sustain the growth in information loads

We aim to have a research area that focuses on medium and longer-term concepts and solutions to sustain the growth in information loads being carried by communications systems.

Transport large amounts of data

We also aim to have a research area that contributes to the development of efficient, flexible, secure and reliable communications infrastructure. Through that contribution, it will enable large amounts of data to be intelligently transported and managed over a variety of length scales. This will ensure the ability of the networks to continue to deliver the services demanded.

Interaction with other research communities

The international landscape is moving towards a converged, cross-disciplinary approach to communications.

While this research area does not require further specific stimulus, it should continue to maximise the impact of research undertaken within it by adopting an approach that encourages systems thinking beyond the traditional optical communications domain.

5G networks

This requires efforts to bring about greater interaction in future between this research community and others. In particular there should be interaction with the Radio frequency and microwave communications research area community in terms of addressing the cross-disciplinary challenges that need to be overcome to enable the development of 5G networks.

Why we're doing it

In this research area, the UK features some very strong groups at the forefront of their fields. They have strong research capability spanning many aspects of optical communications research, from components to systems and network architectures.

The UK is unique in its coverage of many communications research areas and has made major contributions to the development and use of:

  • fibre optics
  • pioneering specialist research – for example, free-space optical communications
    disruptive technologies – for example, Light Fidelity (LiFi).

The groups active in this area are well connected, with numerous collaborations at both national and international level. This is supported by a healthy industry strongly engaged with leading research groups. Many parts of industry are relevant beyond information and communications technologies – extending into healthcare, manufacturing and energy. The research area’s grant portfolio reflects this.

Concentrated among a small number of key institutions, the community is capable of attracting both UK and international academics and students. The UK can support this community at different career stages through a mix of different mechanisms, suggesting that the UK is not at risk of losing capacity.

This area is well supported by extensive and in some cases unique infrastructure. This includes cleanrooms and large equipment and facilities, for example:

EPSRC funding for linking network testbeds has been awarded to projects working to link optical and wireless communications and therefore accelerate the impact of optical communications research in this area.

View evidence sources used to inform our research strategies.

Past projects, outcomes and impact

Visualising our portfolio (VoP) is a tool for users to visually interact with the EPSRC portfolio and data relationships. Find out more about research area connections and funding for optical communications.

Find previously funded projects on Grants on the Web.

Last updated: 3 January 2023

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