Optical communications

The practical and theoretical techniques and associated systems for transporting information by fibre-guided or free-space photons, including analogue and digital signals. This area contains research aiming to increase the capacity, speed, flexibility, availability, efficiency and security of optical communications on all length scales, from sub-micron (intra-chip) to mega-metres (transoceanic links). It can include, for instance, optical signal generation and processing for advanced modulation formats, transmission and switching (including wavelength, space, polarisation and time division multiplexing). This area also addresses intelligent networking, including integration with wireless communications and non-linear optical techniques.

The strategy for this research area recognises the UK strength in this area and the contribution it makes to the communication of information in an increasingly connected world. The UK community is in a good position to respond to challenges originating from future demands to increase capacity in the optical communications network due to the continued development of Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) under the influence of both Big Data and the Internet of Things. (Evidence source 1)

By the end of the current Delivery Plan, we aim to have a research area which:

  • Focuses on medium and longer-term concepts and solutions to sustain the growth in information loads being carried by communications systems
  • Enables, through its contribution to the development of efficient, flexible, secure and reliable communications infrastructure, large amounts of data to be intelligently transported and managed over a variety of length scales, ensuring the ability of the networks continue to deliver the services demanded.

The international landscape is moving towards a converged, cross-disciplinary approach to communications. While this research area does not require further specific stimulus, then, it should continue to maximise the impact of research undertaken within it by adopting an approach that encourages systems thinking beyond the traditional Optical Communications domain. This requires efforts to bring about greater interaction in future between this research community and others, and in particular with the Radio Frequency and Microwave Communications community in terms of addressing the cross-disciplinary challenges that need to be overcome to enable the development of 5G networks.


In this research area, the UK features some very strong groups at the forefront of their fields, with strong research capability spanning many aspects of Optical Communications research, from components to systems and network architectures. (Evidence source 2,3,4,5,6,7) The UK is unique in its coverage of many communications research areas and has made major contributions to the development and use of fibre optics, as well as in pioneering specialist research (e.g. free-space Optical Communications) and disruptive technologies (e.g. Light Fidelity, or LiFi). (Evidence source 3,5)

The groups active in this area are well-connected, with numerous collaborations at both national and international level, and this is supported by a healthy industry strongly engaged with leading research groups. (Evidence source 1,6) Many parts of industry are relevant beyond ICT - extending into healthcare, manufacturing and energy - and the research area-s grant portfolio reflects this. (Evidence source 4)

Concentrated among a small number of key institutions, the community is capable of attracting both UK and international academics and students. (Evidence source 2,3,4,8) The UK can support this community at different career stages through a mix of different mechanisms, suggesting that the UK is not at risk of losing capacity.

This area is well-supported by extensive and in some cases unique infrastructure, including cleanrooms, large equipment and facilities such as the expanding National Dark Fibre Infrastructure Service established in 2014 and the National Hub in High Value Photonic Manufacturing established in 2015. EPSRC funding for linking network testbeds has been awarded to projects working to link optical and wireless communications and therefore accelerate the impact of Optical Communications research in this area. (Evidence source 1,4,8)

This research area has the potential to contribute to Connected, Productive and Resilient Nation Outcomes in the short and long term, and the following specific Ambitions within these Outcomes:

P1: Introduce the next generation of innovative and disruptive technologies

Recent developments in the field (e.g. LiFi) have shown the potential.

C2: Achieve transformational development and use of the Internet of Things

This research area will enable communications paradigms for novel network architectures involving multiple devices.

R2: Ensure a reliable infrastructure which underpins the UK economy

This area is relevant to future internet and communications networks.

  1. Roadmap: UK III-V Community Engagement with Industry.
  2. Community engagement (individual input, group feedback and team visits).
  3. Input from the ICT Strategic Advisory Team and Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014 panellists.
  4. EPSRC Optical Communications research area data.
  5. Photonics Leadership Group.
  6. Photonics Leadership Group, UK Photonics: Future Growth Opportunity Roadmap (PDF), (2015).
  7. A. Hamacker and G. Jordan, Photonics: Revolutionising our World, (2014).
  8. Photonics21, The Photonics Landscape Europe.

Other source:

Research area connections

This diagram shows the top 10 connections between Research Areas within the EPSRC research portfolio. The depth of the segment relates to value of grants and the width of the segment relates to the number of grants shared by those two Research Areas. Please click to see the related Research Area rationale.

Visualising our Portfolio (VoP)
Visualising our portfolio (VoP) is a tool for users to visually interact with the EPSRC portfolio and data relationships.

EPSRC support by research area in optical communications (GoW)
Search EPSRC's research and training grants.

Contact Details

In the following table, contact information relevant to the page. The first column is for visual reference only. Data is in the right column.

Name: Luis Lopez-Bracey
Job title: Portfolio Manager
Department: ICT
Organisation: EPSRC
Telephone: 01793 442247