Institute of Communications and Connected Systems


UCL launches £1.3m world-leading communications system testbed

1 March 2021

UCL researchers have recently been awarded £1.3m to develop a world-leading experimental testbed for state-of-the-art optical and wireless communication systems and networks research

insert shows a 'rack' of measurement equipment stacked on top of each other, with many wires and screens showing graphs, the back ground image shows a map of the world with many icos of people and map pointers connected by a network of lines.

Author: Dr Robert Thompson, Institute Manager

Future Networks | Optical Communications | Wireless Systems

UCL researchers have recently begun the development of a £1.3m world-leading testbed capable of characterising and investigating state-of-the-art optical and wireless communication systems and networks. 

The test-bed is supported by a £990 000 grant from the UK's Engineering and Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC) in addition to a £300 000 contribution from UCL and support from Industry.

The project to develop the testbed began last month and will provide signal generation and detection capabilities, unique within the UK, the facility will consolidate and enhance the UK's international leadership in the area of optical and wireless networks research.

Once complete, the testbed will allow ultra-low noise, high-resolution capture and analysis of complex broadband signals significantly expanding UCL's already extensive optical and wireless networks test facilities.

Current and future communication systems and networks depend on a high-capacity, adaptive, secure digital infrastructure. Underpinning this infrastructure are high-capacity optical networks enabling ubiquitous, fast and low-delay wireless connectivity. The UCL testbed has been designed to support the new research essential to ensuring this infrastructure evolves to support new services.

Supporting the co-design of optical-wireless systems the testbed will enable the evolution of infrastructure to support future demands, including machine-machine communications supporting millions of devices per km2, high-performance computing, networks moving to less than 1-millisecond delay, ultrahigh-bandwidth optical systems aiming to reach peta bit/s and wireless applications going beyond 10Gbps connections.

Reflecting on the impact of the work Professor Polina Bayvel, leading the work of the facility, Head of the Optical Networks research Group in the UCL Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering, said:

"The research this test bed will enable is focused on one of our society's greatest technical challenges with impact across the entirety of the economy and society. The work can transform the development of information and communication infrastructure.

"A high-capacity, flexible, cost-effective and efficient telecommunications and data infrastructure is of great national and international importance."

To meet the demands of an increasingly data-intensive economy, and support applications requiring ubiquitous connectivity, high-bandwidth, ultra-low-latency and high reliability we require continuous advances in the infrastructure of our communications networks. 

These advances require both fundamental and applied research to continually drive the evolution of the network and meet these demands.

Telecommunications and network infrastructure is a fast-moving and internationally fierce field of both research, and industrial development. The UK has historically maintained a position of leadership in this field. This new world-class facility will allow the UK to maintain this leadership, providing experimental demonstrations of UK led theoretical advances that can be translated to industrial application.

Speaking about the alignment with future networks Professor Izzat Darwazeh, Director of the UCL Institute of Communications and Connected Systems said: 

"Future communications Systems and Networks will combine advanced wireless and advance fibre communication parts, currently these different domains are rarely co-designed, with this facility in addition to our current laboratories such co-design and testing will become possible. 

"We believe this uniqueness will attract research and innovation activities from across UK academia and industry and Internationally." 

Based in UCL laboratories the new facility will be connected to the National Dark Fibre Facility, allowing the distribution of signals between the facility and partner institutions across the UK, including the Universities of Bristol, Cambridge and Southampton. In doing so the facility will facilitate UK wide research collaborations across new photonic and RF devices, systems and networks. 

The facility will offer a new advanced capability for UK industry to characterise, investigate and develop advanced and diverse telecommunications and digital infrastructure. Providing a shared facility will foster cross-academic-industry collaboration enabling co-design and the integration of research expertise with industrial application.