Future Communications: People, Power and Performanace

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


The Communications sector is a vital component within the UK economy, with revenues in this area totalling around 129B. Recognised as a key enabler of telecommunications, broadcasting and ICT, communications is also poised to be a transformational technology in areas such as energy, the environment, health and transport. The UK is well placed to reap the full economic and social benefits enabled by communications and investment in a CDT, embracing the breath and reach of the discipline, will help to facilitate our economic recovery and growth and enhance our global standing.There is a serious and growing concern over the future availability of suitably skilled staff to work in the communications sector in the UK. International competition is fierce, with large investments being made by competitor countries in research and in the training of personnel. IT and telecoms companies in the UK are reporting difficulties in attracting candidates with the right skills. In this context, the National Microelectronics Institute and the IET have warned that the ICT sector is facing a growing recruitment crisis with little confidence that the problem will improve in the short or medium term. Various organisations (eg DC-KTN and Royal Academy of Engineering) with support from industry are addressing this issue but acknowledge that it cannot be achieved without relevant high quality under- and postgraduate degrees through which specialist skills can be obtained.To address this shortage, a new Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in 'Future Communication' is proposed. The University of Bristol has a world leading reputation in this field, focused on its Centre for Communications Research (CCR), but built on close collaboration between colleagues from Mathematics, Computer Science, Safety Systems and industry. Our vision is to establish a world-leading research partnership which is focused on demand and firmly footed in a commercial context, but with freedom to conduct academically lead blue skies research.The Bristol CDT will be focused on people: not just as research providers, but also as technology consumers and, importantly, as solutions to the UK skills shortage. It will develop the skilled entrepreneurial engineers of the future, provide a coherent advanced training network for the communications community that will be recognised internationally and produce innovative solutions to key emerging research challenges. Over the next eight years, the 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. The taught component of the Programme will build on our MSc programme in Communication Systems & Signal Processing, acknowledged as leading in the UK, complemented by additional advanced material in statistics, optimisation and Human-Computer Interaction. This approach will leverage existing commitment and teaching expertise. Enterprise will form a core part of the programme, including: Project Management, Entrepreneurship, Public Communication, Marketing and Research Methods. Through its research programme and some 50 new PhD students, the CDT will undertake fundamental work in communication theory, optimisation and reliability. This will be guided by the commercial imperatives from our industry partners, and motivated by application drivers in Smart Grid, transport, healthcare, military/homeland security, safety critical systems and multimedia delivery. While communications technology is the enabler it is humans that are the consumers, users and beneficiaries in terms of its broader applications. In this respect we will focus our research programme on the challenges within and interactions between the key domains of People, Power and Performance.

Planned Impact

The Bristol CDT in 'Future Communications' will deliver the best advanced training for the communications community nationally. It will produce innovative solutions to key emerging research challenges and it will develop the skilled and entrepreneurial engineers needed to underpin the future of the industry. We will train the future leaders of industry. Compared to traditional programmes, our students will have far broader interdisciplinary technical knowledge, much deeper mathematical skills, and much better developed commercial and enterprise abilities. The cohort will benefit from a 4 year enterprise programme that will provide the cohort with the motivation and competencies required to commercialise their research outcomes. Our CDT will seed the generation of new ideas, innovative products and new companies, leading ultimately to new sources of wealth generation for the UK economy. In order to conduct world-leading research which is focused on demand, 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. Through the CDT Industrial 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 will enable industry to undertake medium-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 (PhD) research projects has been offered in the attached letters of support. Many companies have also offered access to special facilities and intellectual property, for example state-of-the-art processor cores and know-how, thus enriching the research environment. A strong industry-academia partnership will also ensure that relevant results can be presented to standards or policy meetings without detracting from the research focus, thus reducing academic resources spent on such activities. Despite revenues of some 129B per annum and its ability to create highly innovative devices, products and systems providing high performance connectivity and access to content, the UK Electronics sector is sadly still not recognised by some of the UK's population. This poses significant challenges both in promoting the discipline and in recruiting the best students from a diminishing pool of UK candidates. Student recruitment is a key component in making this centre a success. Building on the success of the UK Electronics Skills Foundation and our own considerable experience with undergraduate recruitment in Electrical & Electronic Engineering, we will run summer schools to attract the top UK and EU students from Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Computer Science, Mathematics and Physics. Through our summer schools, as well as new media (social networking sites), potential recruits will learn more about the career opportunities in the sector and the bespoke educational opportunities available. The CDT partners have a long history of outreach, into schools, via Science Alive, through national and international lectures and exhibitions. This culture will be reinforced in the CDT and all students will be required to engage in outreach activity. A website will deliver research highlights, progress reports and educational resources, alongside student newsletters/podcasts. We will also draw on local and national resources for enhancing our Public Engagement as well as training our students in the art of both written and oral presentation.


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