Next-gen networks: Feds have cash for good ideas

The National Science foundation will be doling out research dollars for innovations in software-defined networking, network function virtualization, cloud computing, analytics, more.

ai a peek behind the curtain of innovation
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The National Science Foundation (NSF) is not inclined to wait for next-generation (NextG) networks. And who can blame it? NextG promises faster cellular, Wi-Fi, and satellite networks, all of which can be used to enhance data streaming, wireless communications, analytics, and automation.

For the NSF, this translates into improved national defense, education, public health and safety, transportation, and digital infrastructure. For enterprises, NextG means greater efficiency, flexibility, business insights, and more opportunities to replace human workers with robots. (I’m just sayin’.)

Imagine offering your dwindling number of human employees connectivity speeds of 1 Gbps or more, along with latencies as low as 1 millisecond or less for massive numbers of devices and services. This would enable applications such as augmented reality/virtual reality (AR/VR) and video analytics. NextG networks will leverage software-defined networking (SDN), programmable accelerators, network function virtualization (NFV), cloud-computing platforms, dynamic orchestration, and mobile edge computing (MEC).

Once fully deployed, NextG network systems will provide connectivity for billions of internet-of-things devices and billions of people around the world. NextG will enable machines to communicate with each other and will make compute and storage resources available on-demand at the edge and from the cloud.

“The economy,” NSF says, “will become ever more dependent on the high availability, security and reliability of such network systems.”

Sounds great! Well, except for the “dependent” part. Also, NSF, this part is a bit of a buzzkill: “Any failure, tampering or degradation in network service can have highly disruptive, if not potentially catastrophic, effects.”

In a bid to head off this foreboding fate, the agency is coordinating efforts to unleash the immense power of innovative and cash rewards to ensure “NextG network systems have high degrees of resiliency at-scale (regardless of complexity), reliability, and availability.”

The NSF is partnering with other federal agencies and private industry to form the Resilient and Intelligent Next-Generation Systems program (RINGS) to “advance the underlying technologies to guarantee worldwide availability, security and reliability of NextG systems.”

“The RINGS program seeks innovations to enhance both resiliency as well as performance across the various aspects of NextG communications, networking and computing systems,” NSF says. “For the purposes of this solicitation, resiliency is the ability to survive, gracefully adapt to, and rapidly recover from malicious attacks, component failures, and natural and human-induced disruptions.”

More specifically, RINGS hopes to boost resiliency “across all layers of the networking protocol and computation stacks as well as in throughput, latency, and connection density.” Submitted proposals must address one or more research areas listed under two broad categories: 1) resilient network systems, and 2) enabling technologies.

Acceptable research areas under resilient network systems include full-stack security, network intelligence/adaptability, and network autonomy. Under enabling technologies, RINGS is looking for research into [radio-frequency] and mixed-signal circuits, antennas, and components, novel spectrum management technologies, scalable device-to-edge-to-cloud continuum, and merging digital, physical, and virtual worlds.

The program has allocated $40 million with which it plans to make 40 awards of up to $1 million each and three years in duration. NSF said it is the agency’s largest effort yet to coordinate a public-private research program. Other participants include the Department of Defense’s Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Apple, Ericsson, Google, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Nokia, Qualcomm Technologies, and VMware.

You can check out the program requirements here. Now go out there and make NextG safe for the rest of us.

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