An ambitious research project to build a fully programmable, citywide data network in Bristol, England is gaining momentum, on Tuesday announcing a new long-term partnership with NEC Corp.
Led by Bristol Is Open — a joint venture between the University of Bristol and the local city council — the project aims to build a flexible, high-capacity software-defined network spanning the city (or software-defined city). Next month will mark the full launch of the functional testbed network, which will model best practices for connectivity in the Internet of Things era.
An OpenDaylight-based SDN controller will integrate traffic across Bristol’s fiber optic network, LTE and experimental 5G wireless networks, and a mesh network of 1,500 connected lamp posts. “What you’ll see is a canopy of connectivity across the city,” says Paul Wilson, managing director of Bristol Is Open. Potential applications include connected and driverless car experiments, traffic and environmental sensor networks, and smart energy grid management.
“We want to go beyond ‘smart’ to an open, programmable city with an infrastructure that could be directly programed and customized,” says Bristol Is Open CTO and Managing Director Dimitra Simeonidou.
“One of the very first requirements was that it had to be SDN-controlled,” Simeonidou tells us. “Because we wanted network infrastructure that would be fundamentally technology-agnostic, and that could withstand many technology generations a lot of heterogeneity.”
The software-defined municipal network will also allow for multitenant traffic segmentation — in essence, slicing off layers of the network to guarantee capacity to different dedicated users. An early adopter of that feature is the BBC, which pays Bristol Is Open a research fee for high-bandwidth access. (Government regulations prohibit the city-backed organization from charging commercial fees at this point.)
NEC will provide equipment and support for the network’s radio elements, according to the partnership agreement announced Tuesday. Financial terms of the deal were undisclosed. Overall, Bristol Is Open is funded by a grant of £5.3 million ($8 million) from the UK government’s Department of Culture, Media, and Sports.
Project officials stress that their work in Bristol is designed as an open model for other cities to review and build on. Early partners include the Chinese city of Guangzhou, which plans to participate in the project over the next year.
“This is a research and development testbed for any city to learn from,” says Wilson. “We’re doing work here that could be replicated in cities around the world.”