Future Networks: Connecting the Digital Society

 

Getting Europe connected: ALPHA and SARDANA's next generation networks bring fibre to European households

 
The bets have been placed: by 2013, all European citizens shall benefit from a broadband Internet connection. The stakes are high, and projects like ALPHA (Architectures for fLexible Photonic Home and Access networks) and SARDANA (Scalable Advanced Ring-based passive Dense Access Network Architecture) are there to make it all possible. Funded under the EU 7 th Framework Programme for Research and Development, both projects feature an innovative approach towards increasing fibre optic networks reach and quality of service for European users. A broader reach to remote, rural areas of up to 100 km and greater network capacity ensuring considerably faster broadband connections for end-users is what the two projects have delivered so far. Moreover, SARDANA's approach won the award for broadband capacity innovation at the 2011 Global Telecommunications Business Innovation Awards in the fixed network infrastructure category. This comes as encouraging news, given the Digital Agenda for Europe's main aims: enabling 30Mbp/s connections for all Europeans and 100Mbp/s connections for at least 50% of households, by 2020.
 

FTTH explained

Optical Access networks, widely known as Fibre-to-The-Home (FTTH), are now ready to support the next generation of broadband services, offering higher bandwidth, flexibility and capacity for users. The optical fibres can transport far more data than traditional copper wires.
 

SARDANA – multi-wavelength FTTH

Advances in the field of fibre optic networks have set the ground for the next generation of access networks, providing European households with the fastest and most reliable broadband connections. This is where €4.1m FP7 project SARDANA has shown outstanding results, following its last demonstration earlier this year at the 2011 Fibre-to-the-Home Council Conference in Milan. The key features of SARDANA reflect a cost-effective approach to the use of increased bandwidth that becomes available through the fibre access. The project uses the potential of present-day infrastructure (Passive Optical Networks) to the limit, as metropolitan and access networks converge. The result is a more centralized and cost-efficient network management, ensuring the technology becomes easier to build and maintain. Therefore, Internet users benefit from a considerably more stable and faster connection: every household will benefit from a connection ten times faster than the usual ADSL, reaching 1Gbps and 300 Mbps in rural and urban scenarios, respectively. Moreover, the connection becomes more stable due to a minimized number of data traffic failure points within the fibre.
 
With the technology expected to reach an operational status in 2015, Internet users will be able to download large-sized content such as DVDs in 4-5 seconds and high definition DVDs in approximately 10 seconds. Watching four television channels at a time on different devices, while uploading or recording content will become common practice for the next generation's fibre-to-the-home infrastructure. HDTV and 3DTV are also amongst the user services to benefit from such developments.
 

ALPHA

Already tested in France, Sweden and Spain, the project combines several wireless technologies and different types of optical fibre (single, multimode and plastic) to enhance the capacity of wired and wireless signals in the access networks, which connect internet subscribers to their service providers. The aim is to offer all users a speed of 1Gbps, while providing bandwidth capacity depending on specific demand. For instance, large concentrations of people such as concert venues would normally feature a larger than usual demand for multimedia applications, unlike other neighbourhoods in the same city.
It is due to this aim that ALPHA’s approach helps set the standards for the next generation networks. Not only will such networks meet the ever increasing user demands, but they will also provide better quality of service.
 
Nevertheless, high costs involved in cable deployment across long distances still stand out as one major concern with respect to fibre optic technology. In this context, ALPHA has pioneered new ways to avoid an increase in costs per user, particularly high in the case of rural areas. A cost-efficient method is using the already existing infrastructure to the fullest. The key is sharing the costly optical equipment amongst the consumers, meaning that more customers would benefit from a connection provided by the same provider's central access site. This leads to flexibility and dynamic bandwidth allocation. In addition, the use of multi-wavelength technology enables several service providers to share one fibre infrastructure.
 

Standardisation

Without the projects' contribution to current standards, super-fast downloads or lower deployment costs would not be possible.
Both ALPHA and SARDANA have contributed to ITU-T (International Telecommunication Union) and IEEE (institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) standardisation. ITU-T helps simplify network operation and management via network convergence. It has already accepted ALPHA's full set of G. 987 series recommendations, based on the requirements and implementation of XG-PON1. ITU-T SG15/Q.2 focuses on higher budget for optical power that would enable network consolidation. IEEE approved ALPHA's IEEE Std. 802.3av, which refers to asymmetrical and symmetrical bitrates. The NG-PON2 standard will define the next generation of FTTH. It targets extended network reach for residential, backhaul, business and SME users.
 
Through its contribution to the ITU-T G 987 standard, SARDANA adds to the previous ITU-T standard G.984 as part of the overall GPON goal. The advancement features an increased network reach of up to 60km, providing the same quality of service and capacity. Moreover, SARDANA's contribution to NG-PON2 involves an even higher increase in reach (>60km), ≥ 40Gbit/s aggregate capacity per feeder and low power consumption. This standard is to be achieved as soon as 2015, when technology deployment will have reached completion.
 
Related project information: