BT begins trial of 'revolutionary' hollow core fibre cables

Air-filled cables currently being tested in Ipswich could reduce signal delay by up to 50%

BT is trialling a new type of optical fibre which uses air to transmit information through a 'hollow' cable.

The telecommunications giant has installed a 10-kilometre-long cable at its research and engineering campus in Adastral Park, Ipswich, that has an 'air-filled centre' running its entire length.

The research into hollow-core fibre presents an opportunity to explore how the capabilities of optical fibre can be enhanced in the future, with the potential to reduce latency or signal delay caused by light travelling through glass by up to 50%, according to BT.

Standard, single-mode optical fibre cables consist of solid strands of glass that quickly carry information over long distances by channelling light from laser transmitters through the glass strands. However, the nature of glass means that the light travels marginally slower inside the fibre than it would do across the air.

The new hollow cables correct this by using only an outer ring of glass to guide the light, effectively replicating natural conditions.

This reduction in the transmission delay could prove pivotal for connections that require split-second data transfers, such as high-frequency trading, and could even lead to lower mobile network costs, according to BT.

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Using hollow-core fibre could also increase the distance between street antennas and the back-end processing in exchanges, the company added.

"This new type of fibre cable could play an important role in the future of the world's communications infrastructure, heralding a step-change in capability and speed, to keep up with the demands for high-speed, low latency communications driven by 5G networks, streaming, and more," said professor Andrew Lord, BT's Head of Optical Network Research.

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