DTU technology aims to increase internet capacity

mandag 18 nov 19

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Pengyu Guan
Seniorforsker
DTU Fotonik
45 25 38 76

Cat videos on YouTube, binge-watching series on streaming services and apps for everything – it all adds to the exponential growth in bandwidth demand that is becoming a challenge. Researchers from DTU Fotonik have taken up this challenge and developed technology that can increase bandwidth while keeping down its energy consumption.

The internet issue

"The traffic is increasing and, at the same time, the consumed energy. One of the main energy consumer is fiber to the home or business"
Senior Researcher Pengyu Guan

The internet is currently responsible for 9 percent of the global energy consumption. This number will likely increase in the future.

It is projected that the current technologies will run out of capacity in 4-5 years, assuming the continuing exponential growth in bandwidth demand. It is therefore essential to find more sustainable technology for transmitting broadband to people’s home.

This issue motivates researchers from all over the world. Among the problem solvers are Senior Researcher Pengyu Guan and Postdoc Mads Lillieholm from DTU Fotonik.

“The traffic is increasing and, at the same time, the consumed energy. One of the main energy consumer is the access network a.k.a. fiber to home or business”, says Senior Researcher Pengyu Guan.

Their technology, Time Lens, can keep down energy consumption as well as increase bandwidth capacity.

How it works

There are currently two different ways of transmitting fiber, and they both have pros and cons. 

The Time Division Multiplexing (TDM) system is very cost effective and has low energy consumption but it also has low performance. Meanwhile, the Wavelength Division Multiplexing (WDM) system has high performance but is very expensive.

Time Lens is combining these solutions to make a high performance and low cost solution.

Senior Researcher Pengyu Guan explains, “We have a system with a signal generated by a TDM transmitter that we convert to a WDM signal with our time lens optical single processor. That is our inventions. We can convert TDM signals to WDM channels directly”.

A TDM transmitter only has one channel whereas a WDM transmitter has several channels. What Time Lens does is to take the cost effective TDM signal and convert it to the multi-channel format of a traditional WDM transmitter, whereby the characteristics of the signal is better suited for optical transmission.

“Our estimate is that we can reduce the cost with a factor of 10 and increase the capacity with a factor 10, all at less than 10% of today’s energy consumption”, says Business Developer Peter Dahl Ekner while acknowledging they still have a long journey but with a very encouraging starting point.

In the horizon, they see a spinout with a commercial product. 

The journey towards industry

It all began with a great idea and a drive to bring technology to market.

Bringing research to market does not have to be as complicated as it might sound if the product is right. When Pengyu Guan had the idea 2-3 years ago, Open Entrepreneurship and DTU Tech Transfer helped him get in touch with industry. Their next step was getting advisors and the DTU Proof of Concept grant. 

“As researchers, we often focus on getting the most impressive data from technology that may never move into the real world. After all of this I’m thinking more about the technology that can easily move into industry and benefit our society”, says Senior Researcher Pengyu Guan.

Mads Lillieholm joined the project at the end of 2018, he is a postdoc researcher with a background within telecommunications engineering and optical signal processing, who is dedicated to the time lens research.

As a strong research team, they also needed someone with industry experience and that's how Peter Dahl Ekner joined the team as business developer. He was introduced through Open Entrepreneurship – a project with the main purpose of bridging the gap between universities and industry.

The Time Lens team is travelling through their commercial journey with "high transmission" themselves as they strive to improve the internet issue. The team received the InnoExplorer Grant of DKK 1.5 million in October 2019, and they will primarily use the funding to mature the technology and develop a portable prototype before they will eventually establish a company.