Janet, the British government-funded computer network aimed at the education and research sector, has launched a dedicated fibre network designed to help researchers working on future networking technologies.

The high quality fibre network is called Janet Aurora, and it will provide a platform for photonics and optical systems research conducted by the universities of Cambridge, Essex and UCL.

Janet claims that Aurora is among the largest test-bed in Europe for optical networking, with approximately 350km (or 218 miles) of dedicated fibre that interconnects university research groups to "enable a wide range of projects that hitherto have been impossible on existing research network infrastructures."

Rather than build a network itself, Janet signed a contract with ntl:Telewest Business last June to provide the dark fibre network.

Effectively, Janet is leasing a fibre network from ntl:Telewest Business and has now accepted the infrastructure after it met Aurora's stringent demands.

"NTL spent a lot of time running characterisation tests on this network to make sure it would meet Janet's stringent demands," said David Salmon, Janet UK's research support unit manager. The network in reality belongs to NTL, but Janet has leased access to it for two years, and the fibre is dedicated to the Aurora network.

"The fibre is deployed and tested, and our research colleagues are beginning to install their own equipment," said Salmon. "There are photonic labs at each location in the UK. The fourth location is at Telehouse in London, and there are four intermediate locations along each fibre path where additional equipment can be sited."

"Janet Aurora has enabled us to connect three internationally leading photonic laboratories in the UK with the scope to share experimental facilities and test prototype photonic technologies and ultra high speed transmission techniques in a real field environment," said Dimitra Simeonidou, professor at Essex University in a statement.

The idea is that Aurora will enable these research groups to pursue their research with minimal constraints, and in a way that would be impossible on a production network carrying real traffic.

"Research is likely to focus on very high speed transmission networks, and other transmission technologies," confirmed Salmon. "It will include general optical systems, not just photonics."

Indeed, the research groups say they have a broad range of interests from device to system levels and work is planned to "investigate new photonic components such as lasers, modulators and amplifiers, as well as dynamic ’capacity on demand’ and high end grid and e-Research applications."

"For the photonics guys, this is an exciting opportunity to do wide area testing, participate in more European funded research projects," Salmon added. "It is an opportunity to get their project on this network and it has opened a lot of doors."

Aurora also connects with research network infrastructures in Europe and North America through connectivity to the European GÉANT2 network. The network is scheduled to support several nationally and EU funded research projects that lead the academic effort.

"Previously, the researchers couldn't collaborate before," Salmon told Techworld. "Having a dedicated network in this way, means the researchers are completely unconstrained, if they want a piece of kit or to try things a different way, they can."

Indeed, Salmon believes that this ability to allow researchers to trial prototype equipment and test advanced network architectures and technologies under real operational conditions, means the research will be laying the foundation for future networking concepts, such as high capacity technology.

The researchers, he feels, are looking further ahead than commercial driven research. "If it works, it may well get picked up by commercial development labs," he said.