About OptCom Group

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Group History

The OptCom Group was founded in 1989 by Prof. Sergio Benedetto, a prominent member of the Telecommunications Group of Politecnico di Torino. Prof. Benedetto took on Pierluigi Poggiolini as the first graduate student of the OptCom Group. 

In this early phase the research focus of the nascent group was on optical system receiver performance evaluation and POLSK (polarization modulation).

Between 1990 and 1995 strong ties were developed by the newly formed OptCom Group and the Optical Network Research Laboratory (ONRL) of Stanford University, led by Prof. Leonid Kazovsky. Pierluigi Poggiolini spent three years at Stanford working on two large and pioneering optical network projects (STARNET and CORD). 

In 1995 Prof. Benedetto wrote one of the first books on modern optical communications together with Prof. Kazovsky and Prof. Willner of UCSB.

In the meantime, in 1992 the OptCom Group, in cooperation with the Optical Components Group led by Prof. Ivo Montrosset, started assembling an optical communications research laboratory at Politecnico di Torino. 

Roberto Gaudino joined the group as a graduate student in 1995. With his help the group made substantial progress in its research on system performance evaluation and polarization modulation. 

In 1996 the group started a collaboration with another strong US group, that of Prof. Daniel Blumenthal. Roberto Gaudino went to Georgia Tech for over a year to carry out research in Prof. Blumenthal's group. He worked on another two pioneering optical network projects called MOSAIC and OPERA.

In 1996 the OptCom Group was joined by Andrea Carena and Vittorio Curri, as graduate students. They too contributed to fostering the group's international collaborations by spending a year (1998) in Prof. Kazovsky's and Prof. Blumenthal's groups (the latter now located at UCSB), respectively. They helped to further develop research within the MOSAIC project and on all-optical packet label swapping.

Already in 1996, the group had decided to pursue an ambitious research project, aimed at developing a highly optimized and accurate software for the simulation and performance evaluation of optical transmission systems. Building on the very strong Telecommunications Group expertise on computer simulation of radio and satellite systems, the OptCom Group members were able to deliver the first version of an optical-system specific software in 1997. The software was called OptSim.

OptSim had outstanding speed and accuracy performance, at a time when the booming WDM sector greatly needed such CAD/simulation tools. The group therefore decided to try and commercialize the software, while keeping on developing it. 

However, OptSim was an academic tool, not specifically conceived for ease of use in an industrial environment. Acknowledging this fact, the group decided to join forces with a Politecnico di Torino spin-off called Artis to turn up a commercial version of the software. In 1997 a contract was signed between Artis and Politecnico di Torino to this effect.

The first prototypal version of OptSim was presented at OFC in 1998. Sales began shortly thereafter. Since then OptSim has steadily been number 2 worldwide in sales, after only one other commercial tool developed by a German company that operated on a totally different scale with VC funding in excess of 50 million Euros.

Today, OptSim is the property of RSoft Incorporated, a renowned scientific software company based in the US. The senior OptCom group members keep on cooperating with RSoft to carry out research and development to make ever better versions of OptSim.

Meanwhile, in 1996 Valter Ferrero had joined the OptCom Group. His contributions have been manifold, but he has specifically contributed to the expansion and upgrading of the experimental capabilities of the group. He worked on several experimental projects, including one spawned by the European Project CRABS and further funded by the Italian National Broadcasting Corporation RAI. The project, called MAPON, led to the successful implementation and demonstration in 2000 of the optical bi-directional distribution segment of an LMDS wireless broadband access network. 

In 1998 Pierluigi Poggiolini became an Associate Professor ("professore associato") at Politecnico di Torino.

In 1998, Gabriella Bosco joined the group as a graduate student. She too spent a year at UCSB with Prof. Blumenthal (2000), working on the monitoring of PMD in ultra-high speed optical transmission systems. Her analytical capabilities and scientific software writing skills have enabled the group to carry out leading-edge research in the field of performance evaluation and optimization of complex WDM systems in the presence of dispersion and various non-linear effects.

A landmark project in the history of the group has been the analysis of the system impact of Parametric Gain and Modulation Instability, a previously inadequately explored topic. The research was carried out over the course of three years (1997-1999) and led to conclusive results on the phenomenon. To enable the analysis, an optical system performance estimation method based on the Karhunen-Loeve series expansion was developed. This approach, pioneered by the OptCom Group, has later been adopted by others, but still remains a leading-edge technique which few groups master.

Between 1999 and 2000 Valter Ferrero and Roberto Gaudino became Assistant Professors ("ricercatori") at Politecnico di Torino.

After 2000 the group has been involved in a number of research projects. These include, among others:
the RINGO project, aimed at experimentally demonstrating an optical WDM packet-switched ring network, later funded again as WONDER
the OPLL project, focused on the experimental development of an innovative optical phase-lock-loop
the "innovative modulation formats" project, a large effort started as a contract with CISCO Photonics and encompassing several new techniques for encoding information of the optical carrier, such as DPSK, duobinary, various forms of RZ, etc.
the POF (Plastic Optical Fiber) project, focusing on developing suitable transmission techniques optimized for plastic fibers to enable broadband access over such medium
 
Since late 2003 the OptCom Group has had access to a new large state-of-the-art laboratory facility, called PhotonLab. It was created as a collaborative effort of various research groups, spearheaded by Prof. Sergio Benedetto and Prof. Ivo Montrosset and funded by Politecnico di Torino and by the Istituto Mario Boella (led by Prof. Rodolfo Zich, a former President of Politecnico di Torino). PhotonLab has also been awarded a 1.4 million grant from Politecnico di Torino over the 2003-2005 period.

In 2004 Andrea Carena and Vittorio Curri became Assistant Professors at Politecnico di Torino.

At this time, the OptCom Group underwent considerable expansion. Its roster included 7 senior members (staff and postdoc), 9 junior members (graduate students), 3 collaborating staff from other groups and from the Mario Boella Institute. A variable number (8-10) of undergrad students carried out their Master Thesis Project within the OptCom Group. 

Due to its increased size and organizational complexity, in late 2003 the group decided to give itself an internal management structure. All major decisions were made by a Steering Committee made up of all the group staff members. Sergio Benedetto became the group President and Pierluigi Poggiolini the Group Coordinator, with Roberto Gaudino as vice-Coordinator and Valter Ferrero is the group laboratory facilities Director.

The group traditional international ties were renewed: Stefano Camatel, an OptCOm Group graduate student spent over a year in 2003-2004 again at UCSB, whereas another graduate student, Vito De Feo, went to Stanford University, in Prof. Kazovsky's group.
 
In 2004, the OptCom Group became a partner, together with the Telecommunications Network Group, in the E-Photon/ONe FP6 network of excellence, funded by the European Commission. The network was coordinated by Prof. Fabio Neri of the Telecommunications Network Group of Politecnico di Torino. Prof. Poggiolini coordinated the E-Photon/ONe Department on "Transmission Techniques for Broadband Networks". E-Photon/ONe had 38 partners, all leading research institutions and companies in the sector of optical networking.
 
The Optcom Group participation in this project led to the establishement of new and strong ties with several European research centers and institutions, and prominently with UPC (Universitat Polytecnica de Catalunya), specifically with the group led by Prof. Josep Prat, and UCL (University College London), namely the group led by Prof. Polina Bayvel. Graduate students were exchanged and joint research was carried out. In particular, a breakthrough experiment of optical transmission using MLSE, reaching 1,000 km without optical dispersion compensation, carried out jointly by OptCom and UCL, earned a prestigious post-deadline presentation at ECOC 2007.

In May 2004 a MoU (memorandum of understanding) was officially signed among Politecnico di Torino, Istituto Mario Boella and FastWeb s.p.a. This agreement, negotiated and coordinated on the Politecnico side by the OptCom Group Coordinator, set up a framework of cooperation between PhotonLab and FastWeb. In particular, FastWeb gave PhotonLab access to 240 km of dark installed fiber in city of Torino for the purpose of conducting realistic field-trials of new optical transmission concepts being researched at PhotonLab, specifically by the OptCom Group. This fiber infrastructure is unique in Italy and places PhotonLab and the OptCom Group at the forefront of photonic system research in Italy. The agreement is still in effect to date (2012).

The last ten years (2006 to 2015) and some future prospects

Over the decade 2006-2015, Pierluigi Poggiolini became Full Professor, and Gabriella Bosco, Andrea Carena, Vittorio Curri and Roberto Gaudino became Associate Professors, at Politecnico di Torino.

The Group was involved in several European Projects. Roberto Gaudino was the general European Coordinator of two STReP projects on optical transmission over plastic optical fibers (POF-ALL and POF-PLUS) and the general Scientific Coordinator of the STReP project FABULOUS on advanced concepts for Passive Optical access Networks (PONs).

Starting in 2006, the OptCom Group has been uninterruptedly collaborating with CISCO Photonics on research and development of coherent optical transmission systems and their applications. The activity has been both theoretical and experimental. The total direct funding from CISCO over the period 2006-2015 has been over 2,000,000 Euros. The indirect funding (purchases and/or donations of equipment) has totaled over 1,000,000 Euros. The cooperation has strengthened over the last few years, extending towards PONs, optical network control plane physical layes awareness, optical network optimization, and several other current topics of interest for optical communications. The well-known and widely adopted GN-model of non-linear fiber propagation for long-haul high-Baud-rate coherent systems operating over uncompensated links has been proposed by the OptCom Group as a result of the research conducted under CISCO Photonics sponsorship.

Over the years the Group has kept on consulting for the development of the OptSim optical system simulator. The software is now property of Synopsis, one of the most famous companies worldwide, specializing in dedicated software packages for technical and scientific use. Vittorio Curri has been the lead investigator for these collaborations.

The group was involved in the organization and running of the 2010 European Conference on Optical Communications (ECOC), that took place in Torino in 2010. ECOC is Europe's largest and most prestigious conference on optical communications, networks and technologies, and a close match to the world's top conference OFC. Pierluigi Poggiolini was one of the three Technical Chairs of the conference (together with Prof. Andrea Galtarossa from Padova University and Dr. Marco Schiano from Telecom-Italia Labs).

Andrea Carena is currently a member of the subcommittee S5 (Digital Transmission Systems) of the Optical Fiber Communications conference (OFC). Hes served as Program Chair for  SPPCom (Signal Processing in Photonic Communications part of the OSA Advanced Photonics Congress) in 2016 and in 2017 he will be General Chair. Gabriella Bosco was subcommitte member, then subcommittee chair of OFC and is now one of the three Technical Chairs of OFC 2017, which will take place in Los Angeles in March 2017. The involvement of OptCom Group's members in the technical committees and chairing of world top-notch conferences is a clear indication of the rising Group's reputation at the international level.