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Multi-million research grant will revolutionise future communication networks

Press release issued: 11 August 2014

Global demand for broadband communications continues to increase substantially year on year. A major factor contributing to this demand is the growing number of fixed and mobile broadband users, data-hungry applications like video, and an ever-increasing number of network-connected everyday objects and machines. It is forecast that by 2020 the number of network-connected devices will reach 1,000 times the world’s population. A University of Bristol-led research project that aims to implement radically new network models has been awarded £6 million funding by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

The project ‘Towards Ultimate Convergence of All Networks’ (TOUCAN), led by Dimitra Simeonidou, Professor of High Performance Networks in Bristol’s Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, hopes to achieve ultimate network convergence through new technology agnostic architecture that targets a wide range of applications and end users. This architecture will facilitate optimal interconnection of any network technology domains, networked devices and data sets with high flexibility, resource and energy efficiency, and will aim to satisfy the full range of Quality of Service (QoS) and Quality of Experience (QoE) requirements.

To achieve its goals TOUCAN will rely on Software Defined Networking (SDN) principles.  The project will drastically evolve SDN to incorporate fundamentally new technology-specific interfacing and resource description followed by infrastructure resource abstraction, virtualisation and programmability. These features will enable any network technology and device to become “TOUCAN-ready”, which means that the devices are programmable and interoperable. This is the foundation upon which the technology-agnostic feature of the TOUCAN architecture will be fulfilled and so ultimate seamless end-to-end convergence will be achieved.

Professor Dimitra Simeonidou, Head of the High Performance Networks Laboratory, said: “TOUCAN will revolutionise the way we build and operate communication networks in a similar way that computer networks and more recently mobile terminals were transformed from platform-oriented to platform-agnostic solutions, eg through Linux and Android, and will drive towards commoditisation of network devices.  In that sense, TOUCAN will deliver a “network technology USB” which will make any networked technology and device discoverable, describable and interoperable within any network infrastructure. Any new technology generation, regardless of whether it is wired or wireless, will connect to the TOUCAN network in a plug-and-play fashion.

“Our research will open up a new network innovation eco-system, which will allow for the first time applications to compose, deploy and program their own virtual network infrastructures, as part of the service delivery mechanism to optimally support their specific and very diverse requirements. Such an environment will be able to adapt to the challenging and unpredictable infrastructure and service evolution scenarios, meeting future application requirements.”

The five-year project will bring together an internationally renowned team of academics, allowing in depth technical exploration based on holistic and radical thinking in order to achieve the project goals.

The project partners include: Professor Dimitra Simeonidou and Professor Mark Beach-University of Bristol; Professor Harald Haas-University of Edinburgh; Professor Steve McLaughlin-Heriot-Watt University; Professor David Hutchison-Lancaster University.

The TOUCAN consortium includes external partners, Bristol City Council; Broadcom UK Ltd; BT; JANET UK; NEC; Plextek; Samsung; Technology Strategy Board, who collectively are committing in excess of £3.6 million to the project. Another £2.4 million will be contributed by the participating institution by means of PhD studentships and research equipment funding bringing the total budget of TOUCAN to £12 million.

Further information

About the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the UK’s main agency for funding research in engineering and the physical sciences. EPSRC invests around £800 million a year in research and postgraduate training, to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change. The areas covered range from information technology to structural engineering, and mathematics to materials science. This research forms the basis for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone’s health, lifestyle and culture. EPSRC works alongside other Research Councils with responsibility for other areas of research. The Research Councils work collectively on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK.

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