‘Machines, robots, cars will all communicate with one another’

The 5th generation wireless systems will allow much faster data exchange than the current 4G networks. But what are the promises and pitfalls of 5G? Delft researchers will investigate this with telecommunications company KPN.

A collaboration agreement between TU Delft and KPN was signed last week. NExTWORKx is the name of the new partnership. It covers a broad range of research topics including network science, control theory, artificial intelligence, information theory, network robustness and reliability, and blockchain-inspired technologies.

Six PhD candidates will be hired in the coming months. These PhD students will work at TU Delft as well as at KPN. Supervision will also be shared between professors at TU Delft and doctor engineers at KPN.

‘The networks will become far more complex’

The project leader in Delft is Prof. Piet Van Mieghem of the Network Architectures and Services department (Faculty of Electrical Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Science, EEMCS). He is very excited about the collaboration: “5G will lead to many changes. Machines, robots, cars – they will all communicate with one another. This means that, apart from fast data exchange, we will need more artificial intelligence. The networks will become far more complex. The collaboration with KPN will allow us to work on real-time cases.”

Though KPN pays for the PhD positions, Van Mieghem emphasises that the Delft researchers will enjoy academic independence. “We will publish our findings and we have the bigger say in deciding the research questions. We focus on research with long-term vision.” 

Also involved in the project is the Delft Blockchain Lab. Blockchain technology is all about creating secure and decentralised environments on the internet for transactions between individuals, companies or machines and robots, without the need for a supervisory authority. The technology is best known for supporting bitcoin transactions. But it can do much more.

‘Trust will be crucial’

“If in the future all machines communicate with one another and also perform transactions, then trust will be crucial,” says the scientific leader of the lab, Dr Johan Pouwelse. “In forty years’ time, the harbour of Rotterdam will probably operate completely automatically. Containers will not be touched by human hands anymore. We expect blockchain technology to play an important role in this type of automated environment.”

If the collaboration proves to be successful, the number of PhD positions may be increased from six to sixteen over the next few years.

Editor Tomas van Dijk

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