Thumbs up from the TRANSNET external advisory board

EAB meeting 2021 online
On 1 July the entire TRANSNET team met with our External Advisory Board (EAB) to share and discuss the programme’s deliverables to date. The meeting took place online for the second consecutive year because of ongoing Covid-19 restrictions.

The role of the TRANSNET External Advisory Board (EAB) board is to objectively evaluate and advise on the progress and direction of the programme. We convene with the board annually and the 2021 meeting, held virtually on 1 July, is our third and signifies the mid-point in the programme (TRANSNET commenced in August 2018 and is set to conclude at the end of July 2024). This year we also welcomed a new representative from EPSRC, Jessical Phillips, who joined the EAB following the departure of Luis Lopez-Bracey.

The meeting was a resounding success with the board unanimously congratulating the team on "another very impressive year of delivery" which they said was "extraordinary" under the circumstances (the impact of Covid-19). They gave a "very clear thumbs up" across all project outputs (publications, engagement, further funding, collaborations, etc., which are increasing year on year) and were particularly impressed with our commitment to staff development which they recognised as especially important considering the government’s recent Telecoms Diversification Taskforce report.

Read on for more details about the meeting and further feedback from the EAB.

Meetings details

TRANSNET Principal Investigator Professor Polina Bayvel opened the meeting with an overview of the programme, including a recap of the research themes and updates on project milestones and metrics. Next, several TRANSNET Co-Investigators updated the EAB on the latest developments within each research theme:

  • Georgios Zervas, Seb Savory, and David Saad presented the RT1 – RT3 update: ‘Intelligent network architectures and topologies'

Commenting on RT1 – RT3, the advisory board recommended a widening of the scenarios currently being modelled and encouraged a more realistic approach to modelling in terms of the problems network operators are continuously trying to solve.

  • Robert Killey presented the RT2 – RT3 update: ‘Evolving transceiver intelligence and infrastructure-tailored digital signal processing’

The board were particularly enthusiastic with RT2 – RT3, describing the research as "top-notch" and "extremely impressive" and a "ringing endorsement" for the programme. They really liked the work on reducing complexity and were both pleased and surprised to see machine learning being applied in this way.

  • Zhixin Liu and Kari Clark presented the RT4 update: 'TRANSNET Infrastructure and the Virtual Lab'

Development of the TRANSNET Virtual Lab is a milestone for Year 3 of the programme (which is this current year: 2020 – 2021) and the EAB were delighted by its progress. They said: "TVL is super interesting and looks like a great innovation in terms of providing easy access [to optical comms data]".

The research theme updates were interspersed with lightning talks – 1 slide, 1 minute! – delivered by the programme’s post-doctoral researchers and PhD students. The number of speakers exceeded last year and demonstrates the growing interaction and collaboration of TRANSNET members with people and projects outside the programme. The board praised all speakers on their "impressive, interesting and clear" presentations.

Further feedback

Further comments from the advisory board included:

"The applied nature of the programme is really pleasing. You can clearly see – even at this stage – how the tools and modelling techniques that you are developing will be of great use."

"You’ve built a really impressive and powerful team here, at all levels of seniority, which is fantastic to see."

"The vein of applying AI in the way you are is a rich one that you’ve tapped into – I think there's lots of new knowledge and science to come."

"It’s a testament to the importance and the real-time nature of the programme that you’re losing good people to industry. You're solving important problems so keep up the good work."

Looking forward

As we move into the second half of the programme, the board recommended that now would be a good time to begin considering how we maximise the short- and long-term impact of the project's research and outputs. They summarised it rather nicely: "How do we take these tools and make sure they are being implemented in five years' time because they should be! They are really powerful."

This is an excellent recommendation; we look forward to developing an impact strategy over the coming months and reporting back next year.

Congratulations to the entire TRANSNET programme for another productive year and a triumphant EAB meeting, despite the challenges of a global pandemic. We are so pleased that the project remains on track, and we thank the board for their time and valuable comments.

We hope to host the 2022 EAB meeting in person.

Photo caption: Since the EAB meeting was online again this year, we organised a drink and some snacks for our members to enjoy together (at home) post-meeting. 
Credit: Egor Sedov, a PhD researcher based at Aston University.