Scottish Research Partnership
About the Scottish Research Partnership   About the Scottish Research Partnership

Pan Scottish Theme: Communications

Communications technologies and services are worth £6.5Bn to the Scottish economy, ~14% of all non-government GDP. The sector employs 48,000 people, each contributing £135,000 annually to the economy, approximately eight timesthe average for allemployees in Scotland. Across Europe, ICT of which communications technologies is the major part, generates 25% of EU GDP growth and 50% of the productivity gains. In Ireland and Wales, the economic development agencies have grasped the opportunity and invested £47m and £30m respectively to promote communications research and industry development. At this time no coherent Scottish strategy is in place to support this key sector with the clear aim of deriving benefit from the undoubted gains in value creation forecast by the European Union.




Given the importance of the sector, its pivotal role to the knowledge economy, the growth anticipated which in turn presents rich opportunities and most importantly the value it generates for Scotland, the pooling initiative represents an ideal catalyst to develop an integrated strategy for this sector that will promote and empower all of the community to gain an advantage in deriving value from a range of global research opportunities.

In parallel to the pooling initiative, real progress has been made by the academic community through consultation with Scottish Enterprise, towards the development and management of framework for action that meets the needs of the communications sector. The pooling activity needs to inform and be aligned with the remaining elements of this strategy. The framework will be multi-faceted comprising segments ranging from consistent, joined-up promotion and networking, through business and academic support to physical infrastructure projects.


Research Challenges

Initially the research activity will focus on the following areas which offer key research challenges and where the respective Universities have key strengths:

Wired Communications

In terms of wired transmission, technologies can be divided into a mixture of copper and fibre for the local access/Metro network, and optical fibre for core/trunk networks.  Technologies for the core network revolve around development of dense wavelength division multiplexing (DWDM) systems and new optical switching components.

At present carriers have been establishing point-to-point optical links to enterprise customers to take advantage of immediate revenue opportunities. Optical Metro networks will be transformed into fully flexible platforms and the transformation of the traditionally voice based network to data centric infrastructure will be more extensive. Development of new components and systems also requires sophisticated management to be implemented effectively. This is an area for further development and one that can provide a clear competitive advantage. Service provision will also become more important as content providers try to lever this broadband delivery mechanism to supply value added services. Given it is difficult to secure a significant portion of traditional telecommunication markets, new applications-driven opportunities will nevertheless occur throughout the network stack. There will be new and exciting opportunities presented by new software applications and middleware, the software "glue" that provides an interface between the physical layer and IP based network resources.

Wireless (including mobile) Communications and Ubiquitous Sensing

Wireless service delivery is attracting significant interest and investment worldwide; the state-of-the-art is at the beginning of this revolution and there are many areas to consider as enabling technologies.
Traditionally wireless service delivery has been restricted in scope to voice and text messaging and has been targeted at a single user device.  Increasing interest is now being shown in ubiquitous delivery of services, including many forms of information and entertainment services, over a variety of wireless delivery mechanisms and to a collection of devices controlled by an individual user.  The increasing diversity of services, and the requirement to make efficient use of scarce radio resources, has focussed attention on providing communication over a variety of radio interfaces, rather than trying to devise a single global solution for all environments. Such heterogeneous radio networks allow the air interface to be tailored to the specific needs of different environments, be it indoor, short range, high movement, etc.  Scheduling systems for each air interface are very difficult to manage, and there is enormous scope for collaborative research in this area.

For example intelligent radio spectrum and resource management where the spectrum has both constrained and unconstrained usage patterns.  Adaptation across several levels of the traditional software stack is therefore a major theme and, in addition, there is a significant enabling interest to be serviced from the signal processing community.

Wireless technology is increasingly being sought for many human activities, e.g. road pricing, provision of medical records at accident sites etc., etc.  In effect this is the beginning of the next-generation computer revolution, the marriage of wireless computing and communications. The mobile phone, together with a variety of wireless networks, has the potential to become the computing and communications platform of the future. However, significant technical barriers exist: the lack of an easy-to-use, high-performance user interface; fragmented service delivery models; security concerns, lack of an infrastructure for peer-based information sharing, the requirements for multiple RF transmitters, receivers and to be supported, and of course even battery life. This will need a far more integrated form of collaboration than has been evident currently. A relationship with the Informatics pooling (SICSA) is relevant in delivering advances in this growing area of research.

Security in wireless service delivery is a particular problem which is exacerbated by the concept of adaptive use of spectrum.  It is therefore important to facilitate the establishment of research groups with a combined expertise in security and wireless technology as this exists in surprisingly few academic institutions.


Specific Research Opportunities

The following are seen as areas that represent key challenges and are of relevance to future communications system evolution, (although the SRPe will not simply be restricted to these):

  • Ubiquitous and Heterogeneous: a network permitting many and diverse user patterns to co-exist, ranging from real time instrument control through to the traditional Internet based services.
  • Services/Applications: appropriate scheduling mechanisms, able to provision dynamic services across heterogeneous networks.
  • Mobility: on the move, pervasive wireless access to better with attendant problems of intermittent connectivity and variable-quality bandwidth as well as heterogeneous technologies.
  • Security: harmonisation of authentication and authorization across heterogeneous networks.
  • Resilience and self management: self-managing networking implying a degree of autonomic operation to support critical applications.
  • Optical Devices and Systems: There are a variety of opportunities relating to the development of novel optical devices and their use in future systems. In addition how these optical systems integrate and function with existing copper based access networks raises issues.


Next Steps

In order to initiate discussion on these topics workshops involving academic staff from the SRPe institutions would help stimulate activity. The workshops would be themed and would be used as a means to generate joint research proposals.