ROADMap: developing next-generation technology to improve the efficiency of fibre optic networks

A University of Cambridge spin-out is developing the next generation of wavelength selective switch technology that is universal, flexible, and software upgradable. 
ROADMap Systems Limited, spun out of research developed at the Electrical Engineering division of the Department of Engineering, is working on a new type of optical switch, used to create Reconfigurable Optical Add/Drop Multiplexers (ROADMs), a fast-expanding part of optical telecom networks, and enabling the flexible use of different wavelengths of light that carry traffic through the network.

The technology was advanced by Professor Daping Chu’s group, who have significant expertise in Liquid Crystal on Silicon (LCOS) technology developed over the last 15 years, and funded by the Centre for Advanced Photonics and Electronics (CAPE), the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the East of England Development Agency, among others. This research into developing optical switches for routing signals in high speed telecom networks is now vital for continued network development, due to the extremely high bandwidth signals that are travelling round the network transporting internet traffic, streaming video and online gaming – areas that continue to experience massive growth. In order to support all this traffic, it is essential for network operators to improve network functionality.

This research into developing optical switches for routing signals in high speed telecom networks is now vital for continued network development.

The research has been supported in its journey to market by Cambridge Enterprise (CE), the commercialisation arm of the University of Cambridge. CE filed a number of patents for the technology before supporting the development of the spin-out, established in 2014. With exclusive access to key IP, ROADMap Systems is developing Wavelength Selective Switch (WSS) technology for use in agile optical telecom networks.

As this network demand burgeons, carriers are looking to increase the efficiency with which they use their optical resources, which has led to the creation of flexible, software-controlled networks. Such systems rely on ROADMs to allow traffic to be routed without the need to convert from optical to electrical signals. The ROADM market is forecast to reach $11 billion by 2020 and WSSs are the critical enabling technology within these. Liquid Crystal on Silicon (LCoS) technology, which was pioneered at Cambridge, has emerged as the only suitable candidate to meet the demands of current and future needs, and ROADMap Systems is developing these into the next-generation WSS, which are densely integrated to achieve high performance and low cost.

A seed round of $740,000 was completed in August 2014, which enabled the company to set up its own capability and hire engineers to support the development work. In July 2015, the company recruited Dr Karl Heeks as CEO who oversaw a further funding round of $1.7 million in April 2016. The round was led by Cambridge Enterprise, who also led the earlier funding rounds with all original investors re-investing along with further institutional and private investors. This investment is helping to fund the expansion of the business as it takes its revolutionary WSS technology to market through a licensing business model.

The company hope to benefit both current markets for optical networks as well as opening up potential new and exciting markets in data-centres and optical computing.

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