The Federal Government has pledged $600,000 to a four-year attempt to distribute accurate time information along research network operator AARNet’s fibre links.
AARNet hoped to determine whether it could distribute a consistent pulse of light along one channel of its fibre network without disrupting the internet services it delivered along the other 79 channels.
By counting ‘beats’ along the so-called National Time and Frequency Network (NTFN), researchers could accurately determine the passing of time to the trillionth of a second.
It was far more accurate than AARNet’s software-based RADclock project, expected to provide microsecond accuracy to internet service providers and banks.
AARNet e-research director Guido Aben said most enterprises would not likely require the NTFN’s accuracy, which targeted high-precision research that would otherwise use hundred-thousand-dollar atomic clocks.
He expected the NTFN to benefit high-precision laboratories that studied optical physics, quantum key distribution and radioastronomy.
The network could also improve Australia’s bid to host the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), an international radioastronomy project that could require $670 million of ICT.
By 2015, AARNet planned to deploy the NTFN along three links that formed two separate networks, one in Western Australia and one in NSW.
Some 80 kilometres of fibre between Perth and Mandurah would be the first to receive NTFN technology.
The second stage involved 600 kilometres of fibre and five or six repeater stations between Perth and the Boolardy Station – the proposed heart of the SKA.
AARNet hoped to deliver both telecommunications and NTFN signals to Mandurah and Boolardy from Perth’s University of Western Australia.
If successful, it would then deploy the technology along 400 kilometres of fibre between the National Measurement Institute in Sydney and the Parkes Observatory.
Aben noted that similar frequency transfer technology existed between research institutions in France and Germany but those used dedicated fibre networks that did not perform any other telecommunications functions.
Australia’s NTFN could eventually be synchronised with international frequency networks through the European Space Agency’s Atomic Clock Ensemble in Space (ACES) project, he said.
The technology could theoretically be deployed on the fibre component of Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN) but Aben did not expect there to be sufficient demand from NBN customers to warrant this.
AARNet expected to eventually recover costs of deployment from its customers, including the CSIRO, University of Western Australia, Australian National University, National Measurement Institute and Macquarie University.
Aben valued the dedicated NTFN spectrum at $3 million but could not provide an estimate of equipment and manpower costs at this stage of the trial.
He said AARNet would “stop immediately and declare [the trial] a failure” if the NTFN affected its regular service to customers.