EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Future Communications 2: : Training Tomorrow's Internet Innovators

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Electrical and Electronic Engineering

Abstract

We are living through a revolution, as electronic communications become ever more ubiquitous in our daily lives. The use of mobile and smart phone technology is becoming increasingly universal, with applications beyond voice communications including access to social and business data, entertainment through live and more immersive video streaming and distributed processing and storage of information through high performance data centres and the cloud. All of this needs to be achieved with high levels of reliability, flexibility and at low cost, and solutions need to integrate developments in theoretical algorithms, optimization of software and ongoing advances in hardware performance.

These trends will continue to shape our future. By 2020 it is predicted that the number of network-connected devices will reach 1000 times the world's population: there will be 7 trillion connected devices for 7 billion people. This will result in 1.3 zettabytes of global internet traffic by 2016 (with over 80% of this being due to video), requiring a 27% increase in energy consumption by telecommunications networks.

The UK's excellence in communications has been a focal point for inward investment for many years - already this sector has a value of £82Bn a year to the UK economy (~5.7% GDP). However this strength is threatened by an age imbalance in the workforce and a shortage of highly skilled researchers. Our CDT will bridge this skills gap, by training the next generation of researchers, who can ensure that the UK remains at the heart of the worldwide communications industry, providing a much needed growth dividend for our economy. It will be guided by the commercial imperatives from our industry partners, and motivated by application drivers in future cities, transport, e-health, homeland security and entertainment.

The expansion of the UK internet business is fuelled by innovative product development in optical transport mechanisms, wireless enabled technologies and effcient data representations. It is thus essential that communications practitioners of the future have an overall system perspective, bridging the gaps between hardware and software, wireless and wired communications, and application drivers and network constraints. While communications technology is the enabler, it is humans that are the producers, consumers and beneficiaries in terms of its broader applications.

Our programme will thus focus on the challenges within and the interactions between the key domains of People, Power and Performance. Over three cohorts, the new CDT will build on Bristol's core expertise in Efficient Systems and Enabling Technologies to engineer novel solutions, offering enhanced performance, lower cost and reduced environmental impact. We will train our students in the mathematical fundamentals which underpin modern communication systems and deliver both human and technological solutions for the communication systems landscape of the future.

In summary, Future Communications 2 will produce a new type of PhD graduate: one who is intellectually leading, creative, mathematically rigorous and who understands the commercial implications of his or her work - people who are the future technical leaders in the sector.

Planned Impact

'Future Communications 2: Training Tomorrow's Internet Innovators' will deliver advanced training for the communications community nationally. Building on the existing Bristol CDT in Communications, our training will be extended to address High Performance Distributed and Embedded Systems (co-design in hardware and software domains) and Integrative Technologies (cross discipline focus in electronics and photonics devices, wireless and wired networks, software and hardware engineering), while providing a strong footing in New Digital Ventures (delivering highly skilled, professionally equipped, entrepreneurial engineers). The new Centre will become a major training hub for UK industry, addressing its skills shortage and contributing to its prosperity.

The impact of the new Centre can be summarised under 4 main headings:

1. Developing the engineers and leaders of the future

We will continue to train the future leaders of industry. However, despite its major contribution to UK GDP and its track-record of innovation, the Electronics sector is still not recognised as an attractive career option by strong UK graduates. We will address this by delivering innovative, interdisciplinary and rigorous training, informed by ongoing engagement with our industrial partners. Key features will be Creative Researcher training, and an Entrepreneurship programme that provides the motivation and competencies required to commercialise research outcomes.
Graeme Hobbs, Chairman, Motorola Solutions UK has remarked, "I recently took part in one of your CDT student business plan panels. This initiative provides students with an insight into the real world, combining pure business skills with both engineering and technology-driven aspects. It is of huge value and ultimately good, both for our business and for the future of UK plc".

2. Building the UK research base

In order to conduct world-leading research which is focused on both skills and technology demands, we recognise that a strong partnership with industry is essential. We have therefore shaped our programme to address specific sector needs and hence maximise its contribution to enhancing the UK's economic performance. Our success in this is evidenced by the significant and firm financial contributions from industry in the letters of support (£1.9M in cash, £1.9M in kind). Through the CDT Advisory Board, the academic team will have continuous guidance from industry to ensure alignment of the taught programme content, specialist training activities and research topics with the foreseen needs of the sector.

Our approach enables industry to undertake medium to long term research which would otherwise be extremely difficult in today's economic climate. Placing fundamental research in an application driven framework will yield academic excellence as well as commercial pull-through of our best results. Significant industrial involvement with both the group and solo research projects is common practise in our current CDT and we plan to continue this mode.

3. Impact on the wider public

Our research will develop solutions which will provide efficient communications, motivated by environmental (energy) and demand (increasing volumes of data constraints). This will have a significant impact on consumers and business through the development of new technologies and applications, and through our contributions to international standards processes.

4. Promoting the discipline

All students will be trained to deliver outreach activity and to disseminate their work effectively through our publicity materials, our annual conference and other international research conferences. We will take a student-led approach to this dissemination activity, making the cohort stakeholders in order to promote their career development.

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