BT in university partnership to stimulate research

Collaboration between UCL and BT is hoped to produce cutting edge technology

BT's research arm BTexact and University College London (UCL) were busy congratulating themselves on Friday for a unique partnership they hope will herald a new era in communication research and which has already resulted in the establishment of a potentially world-beating technology park.

The partnership -- announced at Adastral Park, the new technology park based at BT's famous Martlesham Heath research facility in Ipswich -- was opened by BT chief executive Sir Peter Bonfield and provost of UCL Professor Chris Llewellyn-Smith. Under the agreement, the university will allow postgraduate and doctoral researchers to work at the park alongside BT and other companies based there. These include Agilent Technologies, Corning, Marconi and Nortel.

Up to 50 researchers will move to the park in the next two years and will work in one of four fields: IP evolution for next generation networking; optical multi-service networks; broadband wireless and mobile systems, and the content/usability of networks.

Sir Peter Bonfield believes the partnership is a historic move. "It is the first time that a postgrad research unit has been located at a business location. UCL has a radical tradition and we want this to be a place where conventions are challenged," he said.

Llewellyn-Smith is confident the research done at the park will be groundbreaking and hopeful that, through the industry connection, it will also result in technology that is applicable to everyday life. "The primary role of research is to push back the barriers of knowledge independent of whether it will have a practical application but this collaboration will develop technologies that are genuinely useful," he said.

Research will be directed at services that will improve quality of life and it is hoped the link with industry will mean ideas are brought to market as quickly as possible. It is important that any research done at Adastral Park be "matched to the human", says chair of telecommunications at UCL John O'Reilly. "Anyone who has struggled with Windows will recognise the need for that," he says.

O'Reilly acknowledged that close collaboration with industry could create a conflict between profit and public need. "It is an issue but in the main the field of technology and communication won't deliver effectively for society if it doesn't find a mechanism to deliver it and that means finding commercial partnerships," he said.

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