Dimitra Simeonidou, Smart Internet Lab: Creating societal change with 5G

Dimitra Simeonidou, Smart Internet Lab: Creating societal change with 5G
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Telecoms caught up with Professor Dimitra Simeonidou ahead of her talk at this year’s 5G Expo Global to find out what she’s been working on, her thoughts on the 5G rollout, and the ways it will impact society.

Simeonidou’s impressive career so far spans both industry and academia. Among her earliest achievements was leading the team at Alcatel Submarine Networks to deliver the first transatlantic optical network. Since then, Simeonidou has co-founded two successful companies – Ilotron and Zeetta Networks – in addition to serving as Bristol University’s professor of high-performance networks.

Simeonidou is now director of the Smart Internet Lab at the University of Bristol, which features around 200 experts in wireless and optical technologies who research areas including the IoT, smart cities, AI, and more.

“We are looking at issues of end-to-end networking, service creation, and delivery,” explains Simeonidou. “For hardware and software core design, we have also worked quite intensively with vertical sectors like smart cities, transport, vehicles economy, and public safety.”

The Smart Internet Lab is spearheading a project called INITIATE which links state-of-the-art facilities at five networking labs across the UK in the universities of Bristol, Lancaster, Edinburgh, and King’s College London, as well as Digital Catapult in London.

INITIATE’s distributed testbed enables the experimentation required for complex future internet projects and combines leading infrastructure with the expertise necessary to help bring about innovations which change the way we communicate and interact with the people and objects around us.

A special exchange, known as 5GEx, physically connects INITIATE testbeds via their aggregation points and enables network experimenters or entrepreneurs to initiate, monitor, and terminate end-to-end network services.

“This [exchange] connects all the testbeds together in a very smart way so, for instance, if somebody wants to do larger-scale experimentation around pollution – or wants to understand the national-scale patterns of transport – we can share resources across different labs, different testbeds across the UK, from something that is local to something that is national.”

“That way, we can measure data and services across different labs and testbeds and look for similarities and differentiation across smart things happening across the country.”

£100 million funding was provided by the UK government and a number of industrial partners to create the Bristol Digital Futures Institute last year.

“The whole idea about this institute is to bring together engineers like myself, computer scientists, social scientists, anthropologists, and economists, to actually co-create and co-design the digital technologies of the future,” explains Simeonidou.

“A big piece of this, which we’ve been doing already, is looking at social-technical aspects across connectivity and 5G in particular … how you can drive technology creation but also the transformation of the whole sector. Thinking of issues, for instance, of responsible innovation, sustainability, business models, and societal consent; issues about trust and privacy; and how we can make the future digital economy more inclusive.”

In general, Simeonidou is impressed with the pace of the 5G rollout so far and says that it’s happening faster than she would have expected. However, she notes that people are really only just buying 5G phones and connecting to networks that are not yet 100 percent ready and its full potential lies ahead.

The recent decision by the UK government to allow the use of Chinese telecoms vendor Huawei’s equipment in national 5G networks, despite pressure from the US for a complete ban, was a monumental one. However, the world’s largest vendor is limited to a minority presence of no more than 35 percent of each access network.

All of the UK’s major operators are already using Huawei’s equipment to some degree and BT said the government’s decision will cost it £500 million. We asked Simeonidou if she believes the decision was the right one and whether it will impact the 5G rollout.

“My opinion is the UK government made the sensible call taking into account security considerations,” says Simeonidou. “Is that going to delay the rollout of mobile networks? Potentially, yes… because you’re taking a significant vendor out of the core of a mobile network.”

Simeonidou doesn’t believe the decision will hold the UK back too much long-term. She believes that industry-revolutionising applications will start in around a couple of years, by which time it’s likely other vendors will have stepped up to fill any infrastructure gaps.

Following such a deep question, we wanted to know what Simeonidou is most excited about. 

“I would like to see schools have their own network delivering their own services to their students,” says Simeonidou. “I would like to see manufacturing do the same, transport companies, ports, airports… getting into the game and completely democratise mobile service.”

Simeonidou will be sharing further insights at 5G Expo Global in London between 17-18th March. On the first day of the event, she is hosting a talk titled “Putting societal needs first with 5G”. On the second day, Simeonidou will join other leading industry figures on a panel called “The new world of connectivity; 5G and the future”.

Interested in hearing industry leaders discuss subjects like this and sharing their use-cases? Attend the co-located IoT Tech Expo, Blockchain Expo, AI & Big Data ExpoCyber Security & Cloud Expo and 5G Expo World Series with upcoming events in Silicon Valley, London and Amsterdam and explore the future of enterprise technology.

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