NEC Ibérica and NEC Laboratories Europe advance data space and 5G technology research with a smart campus for the University of Murcia


NEC Ibérica and NEC Laboratories Europe are building a smart campus network for the University of Murcia in Spain that will provide an experimental 5G platform for student education and research innovation. The smart campus will include FIWARE-based data spaces and an enhanced Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem designed to improve energy efficiency for the university.

Spain’s Centre for the Development of Technology and Innovation “Centro para el Desarrollo Tecnológico y la Innovación” (CDTI) is leading the smart campus project, called “Distributed Computing Intelligence,” as a pre-commercial procurement of R&D&I services (Pre-commercial Public Procurement). The smart campus network is funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) to further its mission “A way of doing Europe,” and is a collaboration between the University of Murcia and domain technology experts.

To implement the project, NEC and its partners will deploy a private, multipurpose 5G system within the university’s Espinardo campus providing a state-of-the-art research facility and testbed for the study of 5G networks, edge computing, data spaces and IoT ecosystems. Using the University of Murcia’s smart campus platform, students will develop advanced 5G networking and IoT skills, while researchers will have access to one of Europe’s most advanced environments for novel 5G technology and data space research. University administration will make use of the system to improve operations. Antonio Skarmeta, University of Murcia, Strategic Project Coordinator, said, “We are looking to explore the development of solutions beyond the current conception of smart cities and infrastructures. We want advanced, future solutions that can integrate dynamic and intelligent systems and adapt to the needs of each user. Our smart campus platform is an integral part of this vision.”

To encourage innovative research, the IoT architecture of the Espinardo campus will include FIWARE: the open-source technology framework for creating smart solutions and federated data spaces. Students and researchers can use FIWARE to harness open-source, IoT building blocks for their own work, while ensuring that it complies with ETSI NGSI-LD, the European Union’s industry standard for context information management.

Key to the successful deployment of the private 5G system is edge computing, which includes the 5G features of network slicing and edge cloud orchestration. While still experimental, these technologies are needed to securely deploy different university research projects to the network and manage network resources. Hicham Chiker, Project Manager at NEC Ibérica, said, “It is both a pleasure and a huge challenge to manage this ambitious project because it combines several core technologies of the future: artificial intelligence, advanced 5G networking and distributed computing. By creating a working system that uses these, we are providing a reference for future initiatives in the same direction.”

To incorporate edge computing, NEC, in collaboration with other team members, are currently integrating edge computing extensions into the university’s smart campus, private 5G system and IoT framework. A management and orchestration (MANO) framework is also planned for the 5G IoT ecosystem. Ernö Kovacs, Senior Manager of Data Ecosystems and Standards at NEC Laboratories Europe, said, “Without network slicing, you cannot properly isolate different user groups and they might conflict. Network slicing lets you achieve isolation and is one of the advantages of 5G. In today’s public networks, this is not yet available for general use.”

Kovacs adds, “With edge orchestration it’s a similar situation – the technology is envisaged but not really available for experimentation. What the University of Murcia needs is the ability to create secure, connected data spaces within edge systems and the cloud; this will let researchers, students and university administration collaborate using shared data with varying levels of access.” To achieve this, different data spaces will run in parallel, protected and isolated by the network, while adjusting automatically to different locations and uses of the data. This will create an intelligent information system throughout the campus.

In addition to research, the University of Murcia is committed to reducing its carbon footprint by conserving energy. For example, using its growing network of IoT sensors the university monitors and controls energy use of its buildings. To help manage the university’s overall compute energy use, NEC is implementing its Cloud City Operation Center (CCOC), which will oversee the data needs of the Espinardo campus in real time. To link IoT entities together in data spaces, the CCOC will include the FIWARE context broker, NEC NGSI-LD Scorpio Broker, which will help grow the university’s IoT ecosystem in a stable and scalable way. The university smart campus network is expected to go live in 2023.

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