AARNet to trial National Time and Frequency Network

The University of Western Australia will head up a consortium including CSIRO, ANU, the National Measurement Institute, Macquarie University and the University of Tasmania

The Australian Academic and Research Network (AARNet) has teamed up with a local research consortium to develop and trial technology to underpin a National Time and Frequency Network (NTFN).

Speaking to Computerworld Australia, AARNet E-research director, Guido Aben, said the consortium is being headed by the University of Western Australia along with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), the Australian National University, the National Measurement Institute (NMI), Macquarie University and the University of Tasmania.

AARNet will provide the consortium -- which has received $600,000 in funding via the Australian Research Council -- with “guidance and handrails” on how to integrate they are doing in the labs into a live telecommunications system.

According to Aben, time and frequency measurements are essential for many of the technologies underpinning the likes of telecommunications, broadcasting, IT and scientific projects.

The NTFN will be based on extremely high accuracy clocks, “the sort of clocks that askew by about a second on the life of the universe”.

“If the trial is successful, we aim to provide this service as a commodity, an extremely high accuracy clock from the wall, a socket-type service on AARNet network across the country,” Aben said.

“Whatever you measure these days, if it’s high accuracy it’s no longer a matter of rolling out a tape measure, all measurements are made by counting, so you take a wavelength of a particular collar of light from an atom and you multiply it by a number of times and that’s your length, that’s actually how length is defined these days.

“It’s become possible over the past five-six years to take such a high accuracy clock, synchronise a laser to it then all of a sudden you can basically shoot that signal down a fibre.”

The trial will take place in three stages, firstly from Perth to Mandurah (about 78kms) while getting used to the technology.

If proven to work, the second span will be from Perth up to Boolardy Station (about 600kms), situated 400kms east of Geraldton. And the final stage will span from the NMI at Lindfield in Sydney toward the Parkes telescope (about 400kms) commonly known as “The Dish”.

“The stages are important, starting on a completely non-used system, then moving onto a system toward science but not yet mixing with production traffic, and the third starting to actually mix it in with production traffic,” Aben said. “We’ll have quite sweaty palms when we do that and hopefully we’ll complete the trial over a two year period.

“This project will enable us to push the boundaries of possibility when it comes to the development of time and frequency networks,” he said. “These trials will demonstrate the feasibility of an Australian NTFN over ten times more expansive then its European counterparts, utilising AARNet’s existing network. It will provide Australian academics with a competitive advantage over their international colleagues.”

In particular, the network would boostAustralia’s bid for the $2.1 billion Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope – the largest in the world. Additionally, it would support the AuScope earth science infrastructure system and the proposed Atomic Clocks Ensemble in Space system.

Numerous scientific disciplines are also set to benefit from such a network, Aben said, including optical physics, engineering, encryption by quantum-key distribution, radio astronomy and advanced telecommunications.

Commenting on the project, UWA Professor Andre Luiten, said access to accurate time data was critical to research initiatives.

“Accurate time signals allow us to fuse together what different telescopes across the country can see at a particular moment to give a single coherent picture,” Luiten said in a statement.

The research network recently detailed a number of initiatives around network upgrades, collaboration, and mobility as part of a new five-year plan.

Detailing the goals, AARNet chief executive, Chris Hancock, said planning for the next five years had been informed by incessant demand for high-volume data transfers, collaboration driven by government initiatives to lift Australia’s competitiveness, and the explosion in mobile device usage on and off campus.

In June, AARNet’s chief operating officer, Don Robertson, flagged plans to convert its network to 100 Gigabits per second (Gbps) within the next 12 months following a successful 40Gbps trial on its East Coast optical network which began on 2 May this year.

“That’s the plan; the only reason we’ve done this at 40Gbps is because it’s the same technology — so proving it at 40Gbps means it will work at 100Gbps. And as soon as the 100Gbps equipment, which is a little way off from Cisco — some months perhaps — becomes available we will actually go straight to 100Gbps,” Robertson said at the time.

Follow Chloe Herrick on Twitter: @chloe_CW

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

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Tags National Time and Frequency Network (NTFN)aarnetNetworking

More about AARNetAustralian Academic and Research NetworkAustralian Research CouncilAustralian Research CouncilCiscoCSIROCSIROetworkMacquarie UniversityMacquarie UniversityNUUniversity of TasmaniaUniversity of Western AustraliaWoolworths

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