UCL Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering


New hub receives £2 million to develop the communications technologies of tomorrow

1 March 2023

UCL's Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering (EEE), with colleagues from the Universities of Belfast, Bristol, Cambridge, Oxford (lead), Southampton, Strathclyde and Imperial College, has been successful in its bid for funding.

2million communications hub

Three Future Communication Systems Hubs will be funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) - with UCL succesful in its bid for one of the hubs.

As the volume of global internet usage continues to rise, the Future Communications Hub will address critical challenges in providing high-speed, low-latency access to internet services for future fixed and mobile users.
In particular, the Hub will research how to integrate separate fibre (wired) and wireless internet access systems into a single resource in order to deliver intelligent ‘all-spectrum’ connectivity which can adapt to meet the current and future demands of users.

Led by Dominic O’Brien - Professor of Engineering Science at the University of Oxford and Project Lead - the Hub will bring together researchers from UCL, Imperial College and the Universities of Belfast, Bristol, Cambridge, Oxford, Southampton and Strathclyde with leading expertise in a wide range of wired and wireless technologies. The research team will engage with relevant stakeholders from across industry, government, operators, regulators and academia to co-create a roadmap to deliver all-spectrum connectivity.

Over three years, the Hub will focus on three core challenges:

All-spectrum connectivity

The research team will explore how to optimally combine wired and wireless internet technologies to achieve end-to-end connectivity. This will include developing models to compare the capabilities of different wired and wireless techniques, investigating efficient interfaces and physical architectures, and analysing new fibres and their capabilities.

Efficient, reliable and resilient networks

In densely-populated regions, large numbers of internet users in the same geographical area can challenge the efficiency and reliability of communications networks. The research team will explore techniques to integrate different internet access technologies in a seamless and energy-efficient manner, including the use of machine learning methods for joint wired and wireless network management.

Trust and security

Future communication networks face key security threats, including the continual rise in cyber-attacks and the growing desire for ‘open connectivity’. The Hub will investigate a range of potential technologies to secure an integrated network, including Physical Layer Security, postquantum digital encryption, and quantum key distribution.

UCL Electronic and Electrical Engineering (EEE) Principal Investigator (PI), Professor Alwyn Seeds, said:

With the volume of internet traffic continuing to grow at 25% per year, new, more energy-efficient, ways of meeting this demand are vital to the growth of the UK economy. The hub with its two partner hubs will provide a focus for UK research and innovation in this key area. 

Project lead Professor Dominic O’Brien said:

Understanding how to best use established and emerging frequency bands across the wireless and wired spectrum is a key challenge for future communications systems. This hub brings together a network of researchers and institutions with world-leading capabilities and facilities to answer this question, and deliver innovation in the use and exploitation of future wired and wireless spectrum.

The Hub will also focus on engagement, and will hold regular events, researcher exchanges, focused workshops, and other activities to bring different stakeholders together. 

Jane Nicholson, EPSRC’s Director for Research Base, said:

Digital communications infrastructure underpins the UK’s economy of today and tomorrow and these projects will help support the jobs and industry of the future. Everybody relies on secure and swift networking and EPSRC is committed to backing the research which will advance these technologies.

Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
Professor Alwyn Seeds, UCL Principal Investigator
Dominic O’Brien, Project lead / Professor of Engineering Science at the University of Oxford