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This page was published on 08/08/2008
Published: 08/08/2008

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Published: 8 August 2008  
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Information societyInformation technology  |  Internet
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Filling the need for broadband speed with GigaWaM

Everything is going online in today's high tech world. You can do your banking, fill in your tax and even purchase your groceries online. People are able to do this thanks to the vast increases in internet speed. But with increased traffic, comes increased traffic jams. The European project GigaWaM has received EUR 3 million from the EU to modernise people's broadband access and get rid of traffic jams once and for all.

The science of photonics is set to revolutionise the world of communications© Shutterstock
The science of photonics is set to revolutionise the world of communications
© Shutterstock
The need for higher internet speeds appears to be a never ending struggle. The more that goods and services are available online, the more people use the internet resulting in increased traffic. This is why EU funded projects such as GigaWaM, which stands for Gigabit access passive optical network using wavelength division multiplexing, are so important.

GigaWaM promises to improve the lives of Europeans and society in a number of ways. These include easier access to a broad range of services; increased access to telemedicine and eHealth, e-learning, and bridging the gap between urban and rural areas as well as the gap between eastern and western Europe.

Understanding wavelength division multiplexing and PONs (Passive Optical Networks) is a difficult subject for many to understand. One first needs to understand the problem to understand efforts being made to tackle the problem. The project is expected to run until March 2011.

Experts believe that by 2016 broadband access will have to meet requirements of one Gigabit per second (1Gbps). To put this in perspective, copper wiring which currently handles our data communication needs have a maximum capacity of 10 Mbps while the requirements for watching the upcoming generation of High-definition television (HDTV) is rated at 20 Mbps.

Taking this information at face value, everything looks fine. If however more than one HDTV were to be put in place in every home, and taking into consideration that several homes share the same network, that’s when you understand that the current cabling will truly grind to a halt.

The solution is to be found in fiber optic cabling which utilises the science of photonics. Photonics is a diverse technology which harnesses the power of light, manages it, manipulates it and amplifies it for the benefit of mankind. Through photonics bandwidth will be able to grow to 100-1000 times the speed of today's broadband access.

Optical networks do not need electrically powered components to split the signal, instead it is distributed using beam splitters. To avoid these split beams from crossing over into other beams, a multiplexing scheme is needed. With wavelength division multiplexing, each end-user is able to transmit and receive a unique signal. This allows for fast and cheaper data transmissions.

Leading the project is optical components specialist Ignis Photonyx AS from Denmark. Also involved is Ericsson AB from Sweden, component manufacturer FiconTEC GmbH and laser diode vendor VertiLas GmbH, both from Germany. Also involved is Ignis Photonyx INC from Canada. Together they believe that not only will they be able to make this method of communication available, but also at a cost which is attainable for the average EU citizen.

The commercial possibilities are also potentially huge. When their deliverable product is launched in five years' time, the market opportunity could reach EUR 230 million a year assuming conservative market penetration estimates.

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