ERC Proof of Concept grant to correct errors in ultra-high speed communication

The European Research Council (ERC) has granted TU/e researcher Alex Alvarado a Proof of Concept subsidy worth €150.000 to proof that his algorithms that correct errors in high-speed communications are technically feasible. He also hopes to carry out pre-commercialization activities with the prize money.

Optical fibers transport the majority of the internet traffic around the world, after which wireless links are often the ones providing the data to the end user. During the last decades, we have seen an explosive increase in data rates in both the optical fiber and the wireless arena. This growth is not only a technological challenge, it also raises the environmental footprint of the ICT sector. ICT is estimated to account for 5 to 9 per cent of the world’s total electricity use, a large proportion of which is due to data centers, cloud services and connectivity.

For connectivity, 15 percent of its energy consumption is attributed to correcting errors introduced by noise in the communication channels. “To prevent further increases in the energy consumption of high-speed communication systems, the error correction algorithms need to be replaced with completely new approaches,” states Alvarado.

All the information we exchange in modern society is based on the idea of representing information (videos, pictures, text) using bits: long sequences of zeros and ones. When this information is sent from one location to another, errors occur during transmission. Alvarado: “One key component in all communication systems is the use of techniques to correct such errors. These techniques are becoming increasingly complex and are starting to form the real bottleneck of next generation high-speed systems such as the next WiFi standard, 5G and 6G mobile standards, and the optical networks that transport data across continents and data centers.”

Low energy consumption and high-throughput

Alvarado explains: “Current approaches either give very high-performance but are very power-hungry and complex to implement, or give poor performance but are very easy to implement and consume little power. Our research is about new hybrid structures that are manageable in terms of power consumption, but at the same time perform very well. We combine this with a technique called signal shaping, which can be used to increase data rates.”

With this algorithm-based approach, Alvarado and his team have been able to achieve low complexity, high-throughput and low energy consumption, making it a very attractive solution to high-speed communication systems, both for wireless systems and for short/medium haul fiber optics.

“Our ultimate goal is to obtain performance levels similar to those of current state-of-the-art soft-decision forward error correction systems, but with at least one order of magnitude lower energy consumption,” says Alvarado.

ERC Proof of Concept grant

Alvarado is delighted with the ERC grant. “It will help us move forward pushing the boundaries of next-generation ultra-high-speed communications. This project is a perfect fit for the ambitions and expertise we have for the ICT Lab at TU/e. This grant will be a stepping stone towards commercialization of the algorithms on signal shaping and forward error correction we have been developing in the last years at the ICT Lab.”

ERC Proof of Concept (PoC) grants, worth €150,000 each, aim to help researchers who are currently conducting or have recently conducted ERC funded research, to explore the commercial or societal potential of their ERC funded work. The grants can be used in various ways, for example investigate business opportunities, establish intellectual property rights or conduct technical validation for their frontier research findings.

The European Research Council, set up by the European Union in 2007, is the premiere European funding organization for excellent frontier research. Every year, it selects and funds the very best, creative researchers of any nationality and age, to run projects in Europe. The ERC also strives to attract top researchers from anywhere in the world to come to work in Europe.

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