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Microsoft swallows UK’s hollow-core fibre pioneer

Lumenisity HQ.jpg

Microsoft has bought Lumenisity, a UK-based start-up that makes hollow-core fibres that allow light to travel faster than along standard fibres.

Lumenisity (pictured) was formed in early 2017 as a spin-out from the Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC) at the University of Southampton. Neither Microsoft nor Lumenisity have said how much is being paid for the company.

Microsoft said in a statement overnight: “The acquisition will expand Microsoft’s ability to further optimize its global cloud infrastructure and serve Microsoft’s cloud platform and services customers with strict latency and security requirements.”

As Capacity pointed out in an innovation feature earlier this year, the speed of light in a standard solid fibre is about 204,500km/s, only 68% of the speed of light or radio waves in a vacuum, which is close to 300,000km/s.

But in hollow fibre the speed of light is much faster: according to the University of Southampton, it is 99.7% of the speed of light in a vacuum.

That means, light going along a kilometre of hollowcore fibre will arrive 1.5 microseconds earlier that light going along a kilometre of conventional fibre. Over 1,000km of fibre, the saving is 1.5 milliseconds.

Microsoft said: “The technology can provide benefits across a broad range of industries including healthcare, financial services, manufacturing, retail and government.” The main attraction, though, is likely to be for high-frequency traders, where a 1.5ms saving is regarded as important.

“Organizations within these sectors could see significant benefit from [hollow-core fibre] solutions as they rely on networks and data centres that require high-speed transactions, enhanced security, increased bandwidth and high-capacity communications,” said Microsoft.

Lumenisity’s next generation of hollow-core fibre “uses a proprietary design where light propagates in an air core, which has significant advantages over traditional cable built with a solid core of glass,” said Microsoft.

Last year BT completed what it said was the world’s first trial of quantum key distribution (QKD), a type of ultra-secure communications, over hollow core fibre cable. BT researchers operated a QKD system using commercial equipment over a 6km-long Lumenisity CoreSmart cable with a hollow, air-filled centre.

In September 2022, euNetworks deployed an ultra-low latency route between Basildon and London, a 45km link connecting two Interxion data centres that included 14km of ultra-low latency CoreSmart cable.

Paula Cogan, then president of euNetworks but about to be CEO, said in September: “We have successfully delivered increasingly longer deployments of hollow-core fibre in our network, becoming the first fibre provider in the world to utilise the benefits of this new fibre technology in commercial markets.”

Microsoft said this morning that light travels through hollow-core fibre 47% faster than through standard silica glass.

There is “enhanced security and intrusion detection due to Lumenisity’s innovative inner structure”.

As part of the Lumenisity acquisition, Microsoft said it plans to use the organisation’s technology and team of industry-leading experts to accelerate innovations in networking and infrastructure.