Plan for new national radio spectrum research centre in Wales

QinetiQ in collaboration with Aberystwyth University and the Welsh Government convened a special Focus Event last month to explore the creation of an innovative National Spectrum Centre in Mid Wales.

Radio spectrum access is essential to modern global society. It underpins economies and provides significant social value by enabling access to a huge range of applications and services. Our radio spectrum enables surveillance systems and radars, Bluetooth device connectivity, Wi-Fi hotspots, car alarms, and mobile voice/data. It powers our ability to seamlessly share information wirelessly today, and its importance is growing as it becomes the technical foundation for the Internet of Things, which sits at the heart of society’s vision for smart cities, smart health, smart agriculture, smart energy, and autonomous vehicles. The digital world on which we have come to rely is underpinned by this part of our ‘soft’ critical infrastructure but it lacks appropriate resilience and it is rapidly becoming the widest open door for anyone who wants to disrupt critical services. The timeframe for addressing this gap is narrowing. Disruption from denial of spectrum attacks is on the rise and there is a suggestion that this is only going to accelerate as The Fourth Industrial Revolution takes hold.

It is this unnerving backdrop that has driven our collaborative exploration of a new radio spectrum research centre in Mid-Wales in partnership with Aberystwyth University and the Welsh Government, kick started with a special focus event.

The concept of the Centre is to research, develop and test the next generation of spectrum-dependent systems in areas such as cyber security, intelligent farming, autonomous vehicles, digital healthcare, 5G and Internet of Things (IoT), whilst creating new high value jobs in Wales.

The event itself was a huge success, attended by over 150 stakeholders from across government, academia and industry including SMEs and international attendees, representing in excess of 60 organisations. The attendees expressed their endorsement for the concept of a National Spectrum Centre as a key capability needed to accelerate innovation and research and drive forward the UK economy. Given the increasing threat to spectrum security there is no doubt that such a facility will be central to ensuring appropriate levels of spectrum resilience are in place before we can harness the value of emerging technologies and can enable the next phase of societal development.

Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns MP delivered the keynote speech and said: "This project will help the university build on its foundations of teaching excellence, training the next generation of radio systems engineers. It will also provide a home for ground-breaking research, both for the university’s purposes, but also to ensure the UK meets wider industrial or government challenges.”

Professor Elizabeth Treasure, Vice-Chancellor of Aberystwyth University, said: “We are experiencing a new industrial revolution, with the potential to bring with it huge economic benefits locally and nationally. We have the skills, resources and facilities in Mid Wales to become world leaders in driving forward the latest digital technologies. Working with QinetiQ and other local partners, we are ideally placed to create a National Spectrum Centre for innovation, engineering and experimentation. What we now need is government support for this pioneering proposal for Wales and the UK.”

James Willis, Managing Director of QinetiQ’s Cyber, Information & Training business said: “At QinetiQ we see the potential of the Fourth Industrial Revolution but we also see the challenges moving it from concept to reality in the mission-critical sectors we support. We need to make the Fourth Industrial Revolution deployable in markets that require incredibly high levels of assurance from start to finish. That means securing not just emerging technologies but the underlying platforms on which they are built and implemented. The joint vision for this centre is a demonstration that we all recognise this challenge and that the answers are not going to come from a single organisation. Success in the Fourth Industrial Revolution requires collaboration. This centre will be a way to connect and integrate the capabilities of several leading organisations in digital resilience and cyber assurance to address some of the major underlying issues associated with spectrum-dependent technologies. We are extremely excited to be able to use our extensive radio spectrum knowledge and experience to help build such a world-leading position for Wales and the wider UK”. James also acknowledged and thanked the MoD for their letter of support for the initiative and their endorsement for the concept of a UK National Spectrum Centre.

New National radio spectrum plan September 2018

Left to Right: Professor Chris Thomas, Pro Vice-Chancellor Research at Aberystwyth University; Professor Elizabeth Treasure, Vice-Chancellor, Aberystwyth University; Secretary of State for Wales Alun Cairns MP; James Willis, Managing Director for Cyber, Information & Training, QinetiQ; and Dr Giles Bond, Research and Innovation, QinetiQ at the National Radio Spectrum Research Centre focus event held at Aberystwyth University on Tuesday 18 September 2018.

For more information about this initiative, or for information on QinetiQ’s capabilities in spectrum resilience, please contact Dr Anil Shukla ashukla@qinetiq.com