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BT and Huawei to create photonics dream team at Cambridge University

BT and Huawei plan to establish a joint research group at the University of Cambridge with £25 million in funding and contributions over the next five years.

The collaboration will bring together ‘five to ten’ researchers – from BT Labs, the Huawei R&D Team and academics from the University of Cambridge – to explore new communications technologies that have the potential to unlock economic benefits for UK businesses and organisations.

The research group of is expected to focus on projects relating to photonics, digital and access network infrastructure and media technologies, such as reducing the cost of network infrastructure and boosting operational performance.

The projects are also expected to examine on the critical role that new technologies can play in delivering positive impacts for society, such as those aimed at reducing inequality, particularly for those groups excluded from digital transformation and using ICT technologies to improve resilience of communities to climate change.

Finally, the funding is also intended to be used to support longer-term, ‘blue skies’ research projects being progressed by postgraduate students at the University which are focused on generating benefits for industry and society at large.

“This new team, intended to combine the brightest minds from two of the biggest global information, communication and telecommunications companies with one of the foremost academic institutions in the world, will further strengthen the UK’s status as one of the world’s leading hubs for innovation,” said the university, via a press release.

The three organisations know each other well. Huawei is a key supplier in BT’s superfast broadband deployment, a relationship that will continue as BT moves forward with its ultrafast upgrade (Huawei and Nokia selected for BT Openreach roll-out). Huawei established its UK innovation centre, where it collaborates with important customers, near BT Lab’s in Ipswich, Surrey.

In addition, both BT and Huawei worked with Cambridge on research projects. Researchers at the BT Labs in Adastral Park recently collaborated with the University’s Cavendish Lab on a project to assess the potential theoretical speeds that can be delivered over the UK’s access network infrastructure; while Huawei and the University of Cambridge have been working together for seven years on range of successful research projects including media, communications and other technologies.

Gavin Patterson, BT Group chief executive said: “We believe the best way of ensuring this country remains at the forefront of innovation is by combining the expertise and commercial focus of industry with the fantastic intellectual capital found at our world-leading universities. Working together with Huawei and the University of Cambridge, we will discover the next generation of technologies which promise to deliver huge economic, social and cultural benefits for UK citizens.”

BT currently invests around £500 million every year in R&D, and has been the third biggest contributor to the UK’s R&D efforts over the last ten years, according to Patterson.

Ken Hu deputy chairman and rotating CEO, Huawei, said: “Technology is changing the world faster than we have ever seen. It will bring many benefits to mankind, and affect nearly every aspect of our lives. Huawei will continue to invest and form partnerships to build out future infrastructure. We have over 80,000 people in research and development globally, working with customers, universities and industry bodies. No single organisation has all the answers. Partnership is the only way forward in a complex digital age.”

Image from left to right: BT CEO, Gavin Patterson, University of Cambridge Vice-Chancellor, Prof Stephen Toope and Huawei CEO, Ken Hu


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