Building the nervous system of our society


5G networks add to 4G networks the capability to fulfil the needs of critical latency-constrained and highly reliable services (e.g., robot control,  remote surgery). At the same time, they allow building logical networks (often referred to as slices) on top of the same physical network, hence becoming a network of networks. Furthermore, the physical substrate is highly diverse due to the use of edge and cloud computing resources, wireless and wired transport networks, and offering all sorts of access technology flavors. And these demanding characteristics are only expected to become even more demanding in 6G networks.

The complexity, heterogeneity, and increasing integration in our day-to-day activities makes future networks become the nervous system of our society. But managing such a complex system in a traditional way with substantial manual intervention is not an option.

The communication networks division of CTTC in the European project 5Growth and in collaboration with renowned European organizations (e.g., POLITO, UC3M, Telefonica, Ericsson, NEC) is conceiving the building blocks of our societal nervous system in the form of an autonomous network management architecture that integrates artificial intelligence wherever a complex control or management decision is required. This is exploited to automatically decide that a critical service must be allocated more resources or that a broken communication should be routed through an alternative path before it becomes saturated to avoid service disruption, for instance. This work resulted in a prototype of such architecture that was demonstrated in relevant venues and that is being integrated in a pre-commercial industry 4.0 pilot.

Cloud-native architectures are a key enabler for network automation. TeraFlow is a European project lead by the communication networks division of CTTC that aims to create a new type of secure cloud-native SDN controller that will radically advance the state-of-the-art in 6G networks in collaboration with industry partners (Telefónica, Telenor, Infinera, NEC, SIAE, among others). This new SDN controller shall be able to integrate with the current NFV and MEC frameworks as well as to provide revolutionary features for both flow management (service layer) and optical/microwave network equipment integration (infrastructure layer), while incorporating security using Machine Learning (ML) and forensic evidence for multi-tenancy based on Distributed Ledgers.

But future networks, like our nervous system, is increasingly becoming intertwined with reality, and autonomous network management is embedded in each and every single component of the network to sense and automatically adapt to varying conditions. This requires aggregating and analyzing all the wealth of environmental data towards the network management brain and a complete architecture to execute the network management decisions over the heterogeneous infrastructure in a scalable way.

All relevant aspects related with the execution of such actions has also been developed by the communication networks division of CTTC in a number of research projects. For instance, the Metro-haul, Passion, and Auroras  projects build the control and management architecture for programmable and disaggregated multi-layer optical networks for future high-capacity metro and core transport networks. On the other hand, the BlueSPACE project  exploits the control and management of the optical access networks by  deploying Spatial Division Multiplexing (SDM) in the Radio Access Network (RAN) with efficient optical beamforming. . The 5G-CroCo and 5G-MED projects test 5G technologies for cooperative, connected, and autonomous driving in cross-border scenarios.. 5G-Refine and other industrial projects on applied machine learning are making this nervous system also control the 5G/6G radio access networks. Furthermore, many of the above projects are evaluating it in a variety of vertical industry use cases such as industry 4.0, energy, or media. And of course, such a critical nervous system must be secured, trustful and reliable across domains. This is taken into account in projects like the INSPIRE-5Gplus and 5Growth projects. INSPIRE-5Gplus addresses key security challenges of 5G and Beyond networks through vertical applications ranging from autonomous and connected cars to Critical Industry 4.0.

As research goes on, we are closer to realize the vision of such a societal nervous system. Meanwhile, the projects in which the CTTC is involved are showing good progress in this direction.