Lab'Optic: IMT Atlantique, ENIB and ENSSAT join forces with Orange to work on optical networks

This is the fruit of several decades of collaboration: Orange and three institutions, IMT Atlantique, ENIB and ENSSAT, have announced the creation of a joint laboratory dedicated to optical telecommunications, Lab'Optic. The agreement, signed for a renewable period of 5 years, will give rise to a laboratory with a staff of around twenty researchers, plus doctoral students and technical staff. It will be run by four co-presidents, with a steering committee, and will be supported by the Institut Foton and Lab-STICC laboratories.

Michel Morvan Lecturer and researcher in the Optics Department at IMT Atlantique and co-president of LabOptic

"It is a great achievement," says Michel Morvan, a faculty member in the Optics department at IMT Atlantique and Lab'Optic's co-president. "Our teams have known each other for a long time. We've worked together on many regional and national projects. We all belong to the Breton photonics ecosystem. This is an important step that will enable us to move forward more quickly". Some of the partners are already working together on the European Embrace project, dedicated to amplification technologies (network architecture, advanced components, etc.) to increase fibre transmission bandwidth.

This laboratory will be run by four co-presidents and will have a steering committee. On the IMT Atlantique side, the laboratory will also call on faculty members from the Mathematical and Electrical Engineering (MEE) department, for their input on Artificial Intelligence and error-correcting codes.  As for the premises, there will be four sites, between Lannion and Brest - pending, perhaps, the creation of shared premises.

Lab'Optic will focus on increasing the capacity and throughput of optical networks. This is a crucial issue, both for operators and for many companies, whose needs are growing all the time: "In one year, Internet traffic in France has increased by 23%," points out Michel Morvan. "In Africa, is has increased by 40%. Operators have to manage this traffic and respond to this continuously increasing demand. Of course, it would be possible to strengthen networks by installing new fibres. But that would be very expensive."

Three work streams have been defined

  • Firstly, increasing the transmission capacity of optical networks for the Internet, with the aim of multiplying bandwidth by 5 or 10 - without changing current cable infrastructures.
  • Secondly, increasing subscribers access capacity, also via the optical network. It is about sharing this infrastructure between different users (individuals, companies, mobile network operator antennas, etc.), in order to increase traffic. "We hope to increase residential subscriber throughput by a factor of 4, reaching 10 Gigabits/second by 2030," says the researcher. The next generation of mobile telephony standard, 6G, falls under this prospect.
  • Thirdly, the challenge is to improve signal processing algorithms - again, to increase transmission speeds. To achieve this, the researchers plan to use signal correction processors. These are more and more complex tools, drawing on the latest advances in AI.
laboptic ENSSAT IMT Atlantique ENIB Orange décembre 2023
lancement LabOptic à l'ENSSAT

All the stakeholders and operators in the optics industry had arranged to meet on ENSSAT premises in Lannion, in Decembre 2023, to officially launch the Lab'Optic joint laboratory.

The Lab'Optic team plans to run several projects simultaneously. Not to mention the fact that new research themes could also emerge at a later date. About, for instance, optical quantum communication - a very prevailing topic nowadays, particularly in terms of cybersecurity.

Given the complexity of the technologies to be implemented, it has become very difficult for a single player, whether a university or a company, to have the needed people and equipments, especially regarding matters of costs: some devices - a signal generator or a high-end oscilloscope, for instance - can run into several hundreds of thousands euros. Hence the importance of partnership research. Lab'Optic will also be able to draw in funds from the State-Region Plan Contract for the acquisition of certain large pieces of equipment. A request has already been made for a high-speed oscilloscope under the CPER.

Alongside Orange, a number of industrial SMEs may also be involved in the work of the new laboratory, such as Ekinops, specialized in optical transport networks and long-standing partner of IMT Atlantique and Orange in the projects.

Everything seems to be in place for a new impetus. The creation of this joint laboratory should enable all the partners to enhance their scientific output, improve their visibility, boost their attractiveness, etc. And, in a longer perspective, to embark on new research projects... "Ultimately, it is the entire regional ecosystem around advanced telecommunications that will benefit from this new tool," emphasize Michel Morvan and Erwan Pincemin, co-presidents of Lab'Optic for IMT Atlantique and Orange.

Published on 21.02.2024

by Pierre-Hervé VAILLANT

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