Carol Monaghan

FASTNET Prosperity Partnership grant: strengthening the relationship between Microsoft and the ORC

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) recently granted to FASTNET, a collaborative project between Microsoft and the Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC) at the University of Southampton. Prosperity Partnership grants support business-led research that arise from an industrial need by establishing research at low technology readiness levels (TRL) between businesses and academia.

The grant proposal was originally written to strengthen the partnership between the ORC and its spin-out company Lumenisity. As Lumenisity was acquired by Microsoft in December 2022, Microsoft will continue their commitment to the grant by match-funding the EPSRC support. Professor Francesco Poletti, Principal Investigator of the grant, co-founder of Lumenisity and Partner Researcher at Microsoft, said: “We are delighted that Microsoft will continue with the grant. Microsoft’s involvement will have a very positive influence on the research project and will significantly increase its impact. While Lumenisity was an SME focusing on the fabrication of cables for data communications based on hollow core fibres (HCFs), Microsoft is also an end-user of this revolutionary technology. This means that research conducted within FASTNET will now have a direct impact on speeding up the introduction of HCF technology into Microsoft’s Azure global network, the company’s platform for cloud-based services and computing.”

Microsoft and the ORC will combine their globally leading expertise to address, amongst other topics, the mass production of HCF. The primary goal of the project is to increase the maturity of HCF technology aimed at the transmission of data with very low latency. This will increase the speed at which information is transmitted by up to 50% and enable the creation of next generation datacentres and optical networks that support ultrafast internet connectivity.

Francesco said: “One of the first attractions of HCF is that light propagates faster than in conventional glass-core fibres, enabling low latency services not otherwise possible. This brings advantages to many latency-sensitive applications in the cloud, but it requires more fundamental research for full exploitation. Addressing a number of fundamental and implementation issues through the combined work of teams at the University and Microsoft is the main aim of FASTNET.”

EPSRC’s Prosperity Partnership programme was established in 2017. In celebration of the first projects coming to an end, an event was recently held in London to share their positive results. Francesco said: “All 66 partnerships that have been funded to date were present. The impressive results of those Partnerships that are close to completion in areas, as diverse as high-resolution x-ray imagings, cleaning detergents and photovoltaic technologies is testimony to the excellence of this scheme. We are really looking forward to seeing the results of our own grant and the impact it will have.”