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University challenge to rethink future networks
Radical rethinking of digital networks through a research project with UK universities and industry

Driverless car

Developments such as 5G, virtual reality and self-driving vehicles will require a major shift in the way we operate and manage networks. Jonathan Legh-Smith, Head of Partnerships & Strategic Research, BT Technology, Service and Operations said: “There are huge amounts of innovation and we’re looking at the next phase of the UK’s digital infrastructure in its entirety.”

BT is working on next-generation converged digital infrastructure (NG-CDI) that will be data driven and highly resilient. It will react to and predict changes in networking demands and then automatically reconfigure to meet them.

Jonathan added, “One of the questions is how we deploy and manage all this infrastructure at the same time. Changing the networks we own and manage will change our business. We want to make sure we have the right organisation and our people have the right skills. So we’ve turned to universities and industry to help us examine what NG-CDI will look like and how it will impact us.”

BT are jointly funding a £5m research partnership with the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). It’s the main UK government agency for funding research and training in engineering and the physical sciences. The company will lead the project with Lancaster University. Researchers from the universities of Cambridge, Bristol and Surrey will also take part, combining knowledge in the areas of networking communications, statistics, industrial automation and organisational behaviour. The five-year programme will be located at Adastral Park. An external industry board, which will include Huawei and Nokia, will also provide input.

The NG-CDI programme focuses on developing methods and technologies for resilient, self-managing digital infrastructure. It’s part of wider government funding of £138m in science, technology and engineering projects. As well as contributing £2.5m of funding, BT will provide research skills worth an estimated £2m. Each of the four partner universities – Cambridge, Lancaster, Surrey and Bristol – will provide a further £1m contribution.