HUBER+SUHNER Polatis and the FLEX-SCALE 6G Project

In 2022 HUBER+SUHNER Polatis was proud to be selected as a partner in the EU Horizon-funded FLEX-SCALE project. Mike Utley, Senior Manager, Product Management and Marketing, sat down with Dr Michael Enrico, who represents Polatis on the project, to find out more:

MIKE: Michael, tell us about the purpose of the FLEX-SCALE project.

MICHAEL: The FLEX-SCALE consortium is developing novel optical switching and transceiver technologies and network architectures to build flexible and energy efficient 6G mobile networks of the future. A key part of this vision is a Multi-Granular Optical switching Node (MG-ON). This innovative network element could revolutionize 6G backhaul and mid- haul networks by enhancing what we might call conventional optical switching nodes with new capabilities providing a future-proof path towards Ultra-Wide-Band (UWB) operations.

Conventional optical switching nodes (e.g. Reconfigurable Optical Add-Drop Multiplexer or ROADMs) rely heavily on Wavelength Selective Switches (WSSs) and Optical Cross- Connects (OXCs) and are limited to optical switching at smaller wavelength or super- channel spectral granularities. The MG-ON brings an additional “higher order” switching layer that uses a new functional element called a flexible WaveBand Selective Switch (flex- WBSS). This element is designed to switch much larger spectral bands than can typically be achieved with a WSS – with passbands even up to the full spectral range exploited by optical transport systems that work in the so-called telecoms wavelengths. This architecture utilizes in a more efficient way the entire low-loss fiber spectrum that is explored by UWB systems, while being fully compatible with Space Division Multiplexing (SDM) technology. Furthermore this functionality will be implemented in advanced Silicon Nitride based Photonic Integrated Circuits (PICs) provided by project partner Lionix International. It can be shown that the MG- ON has the potential to achieve a throughput of 10 Pb/s and beyond, thus meeting the exponentially growing traffic demands on future 6G networks.

click for larger view +

MIKE: Who are the other participants in the project?

MICHAEL: The project is led by the distinguished Professor Dr Ioannis Tomkos of the University of Patras, Greece, and there are fifteen partners across the industry supply chain, research bodies and academia.

MIKE: What is the Polatis contribution to the project?

MICHAEL: Polatis is initially providing manpower and expertise from Nick Parsons, HUBER+SUHNER CTO, and me. I am leading a specific work package team focusing on activities around the design, fabrication and integration of the prototype multi-granular optical switching node (the “MG-ON”) that will flexibly combine the switching of optical spectrum at different granularities ranging from full fiber spatial switching to traditional wavelength selective switching.

One layer of the proposed node will incorporate low-loss optical circuit switches (OXC) which is Polatis’s main area of expertise so we will of course be providing one or more of our optical switches into later stages of the development, testing and demonstration activities.

We will also be providing test resource for other types of switch in the development being undertaken as part of the work package.

It is worth pointing out that Polatis’s participation has been funded by the UK Government’s Horizon Europe Guarantee Fund, which was introduced to enable British companies to continue to participate in EU-funded projects after the UK left the EU. The good news is that since this project started the UK has now formally “associated” with Horizon Europe so UK partners in future projects will be funded directly from EU sources.

MIKE: With a geographically distributed team, how do you keep everything running efficiently and on plan?

MICHAEL: I host regular meetings of my group over MS Teams and of course the whole project group meets together in person about three times a year, to date in Athens, Pisa and Madrid. We also meet informally on the periphery of major trade conferences such as ECOC and OFC and take the chance to present posters and updates during proceedings.

MIKE: Is this the first time Polatis has participated in an EU Horizon project?

MICHAEL: No, Polatis has been actively involved in a number of such projects in previous years, including a project with a consortium of industrial and academic partners called dReDBox (disaggregated Recursive Datacentre in a Box) during which prototype hardware, orchestration software and representative user applications were successfully demonstrated. Optical interconnect plays a key role in disaggregated computing systems as I wrote about in my recent white paper on disaggregation and optical switching.

We also maintain good relations with many of the leading university research groups involved with optical networking and indeed many students go on to become customers as they move into industry.

We see all this activity as part of our “Giving back” initiative.

MIKE: When can we expect to see some outcomes of the FLEX-SCALE project?

MICHAEL: The project is scheduled to run until December 2025 but we are publishing interim reports and updates on specific topics on a regular basis on the FLEX-SCALE website.

And we would like to think some of the development resulting from this project will end up in a 6G network near you when it does actually come to rolling out the next generation of mobile networks!

MIKE: Thank you, Michael, and we wish the whole team every success in this exciting project.

FLEX-SCALE project is funded by the EU’s HORIZON-JTI-SNS-2022 program under Grant Agreement No. 101096909

For more information go to: https://6g-flexscale.eu/en/

Follow developments on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/flex-scale/