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Microsoft Buys Hollow-Core-Fiber Startup

Hollow-core fiber draw

[Image: Microsoft Corp.]

The information-technology behemoth Microsoft Corp. in mid-December announced that it had acquired Lumenisity Ltd., a five-year-old startup company that originated in the University of Southampton’s legendary Optoelectronics Research Center (ORC). Microsoft hopes to use the hollow-core-fiber (HCF) technology being developed and marketed by Lumenisity to hammer down latencies and boost bandwidth, reliability and security in its cloud-computing and data-center services.

NANF focus

Lumenisity was spun out from the Southampton ORC in 2017, with the specific goal of further developing and marketing the HCF solutions incubated at ORC to worldwide clients in optical communications. A particular focus for the company has been so-called nested antiresonant nodeless fiber (NANF), an HCF flavor that has recently gained headlines for remarkably low losses and other favorable characteristics (see “Is Nothing Better than Something,” OPN, March 2021).

Lumenisity has already achieved some success in installations for network operators such as BT and Comcast. And, earlier in December, it had announced the completion of what it called “the world’s first dedicated HCF manufacturing facility,” a 40,000-square-foot building in Romsey, UK, that Lumenisity maintains will “enable scaled up production of HCF technology in the future.”

Speed and security boost?

For its part, Microsoft cites a number of reasons for its interest in Lumenisity’s HCF technology beyond its low attenuation. One is the technology’s blazing speed; according to a Microsoft blog post, light travels through HCF “47% faster than standard silica glass.” In addition, HCF can support a broader wavelength spectrum and sports low nonlinearities across large distances, which Microsoft believes should lead to “lower costs, increased bandwidth and enhanced network quality” for its cloud centers.

Interestingly, Microsoft also cited “enhanced security and intrusion detection” as an advantage of HCF technology.

Interestingly, Microsoft also cited “enhanced security and intrusion detection” as an advantage of HCF technology—due, the company said, to “Lumenisity’s innovative inner structure.” While it wasn’t immediately clear what that meant, part of the security edge may relate to hollow-core fiber’s potential to support quantum key distribution (QKD), a next-gen secure communication protocol that leverages quantum technology. In a September 2021 trial of Lumenisity’s NANF, for example, BT suggested that HCF’s low values for latency, crosstalk and nonlinearity could make it an ideal conductor of QKD signals over long distances.

In any event, Microsoft, in its blog post, suggested that it sees big potential in Lumenisity’s NANF in marketing its services to a range of organizations. It cited “significant benefits” across “a broad range of industries including healthcare, financial services, manufacturing, retail and government.”

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