13 July 2017
Researchers are working with business to revolutionise the infrastructure of the internet in the UK, creating an agile, resilient network capable of meeting the future needs of our rapidly changing society.

Imminent developments such as 5G, virtual reality and self-driving vehicles will require a radical shift in the way our networks perform and how they are maintained.

An ambitious £5 million research-business partnership, led by Lancaster University and BT, aims to create the next generation of converged digital infrastructure (NG-CDI) by developing the technologies and methods required for super-resilient, data-driven networks of the future.

Jointly funded by BT and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the partnership brings together experts from business and academia, with specialist knowledge ranging from networking, communications and statistics to industrial automation and organisational behaviour.

The team – which includes the Universities of Bristol, Cambridge and Surrey - aims to develop a future network that is “autonomic”, with the capability to react and even predict changes in networking demand, reconfiguring infrastructure accordingly with minimal human intervention. This will lead to new services, improved customer experiences in terms of network reliability, and greater agility for businesses which need digital services that can adapt as they grow.

The partnership builds on long-term research collaborations between BT and each of the consortium’s members.

The project is part of a new set of Prosperity Partnerships, which will receive £31 million of government funding from the EPSRC and the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) - this will be matched by a further £36 million from partner organisations in cash or in-kind contributions, plus £11 million from universities’ funds, totalling £78 million in all.

Jonathan Legh-Smith, Head of Partnerships & Strategic Research BT Technology, Service and Operations, said: “Strong collaboration between business and academia is essential to delivering impact from the country’s world-class research. The NG-CDI Prosperity programme builds on our long-standing partnerships with Lancaster, Bristol, Cambridge and Surrey, bringing together their expertise to address the strategic opportunities facing the UK’s digital infrastructure.“

Dr Nick Race, NG-CDI’s Principal Investigator, Lancaster University, said: “Next Generation Converged Digital Infrastructure is an ambitious, multi-disciplinary programme of research that aims to develop a transformational approach to managing the next generation of digital infrastructure for the UK.

“We are very pleased to form this unique partnership with BT, pioneering the way in which data science is harnessed with the latest research in networking.

“By delivering this ambitious programme of research we will be forging the next generation digital infrastructure needed to ensure the UK’s success as a prosperous, connected nation.”

Professor Stephen Decent, Lancaster University Pro Vice Chancellor for Research said: “Lancaster University is delighted to be leading this prestigious research programme in partnership with BT. The award is a testament to our long-standing association with BT, which extends over 20 years and has consistently produced impactful research of the highest quality. Our shared vision of developing cutting edge networking and data science research, addressing real world challenges, has the potential to radically strengthen the UK’s prosperity in the data age.”

Professor Philip Nelson, Chief Executive of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council said: “These new Prosperity Partnership investments will provide the right conditions in which new technologies and products can be developed more quickly. In turn, this will return social and economic benefits and ensure the UK continues to be one of the best places in the world to research, innovate and grow business.”

Lancaster academics involved in NG-CDI include Professor Idris Eckley, Professor David Hutchison, Professor David Leslie and Dr Nick Race.