Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: ICT networks and distributed systems

This research area includes aspects of enabling research that relate to the interconnectivity (wired or wireless) of computers, devices and sensors.

Partners involved:
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

The scope and what we're doing

This research area includes aspects of enabling research that relate to the interconnectivity (wired or wireless) of computers, devices and sensors. Associated investigation could include:

  • network protocols and services
  • network security and performance
  • network modelling or simulation
  • network and resource management
  • topology
  • the design of intelligent networks and distributed systems.

We aim to have a strong, substantial portfolio in this area while encouraging researchers to consider how their work can address challenges across related areas, particularly in five areas.


Researchers in this area have much to contribute to cybersecurity. The security of networks and distributed systems should always be taken into account as a design feature and be built into research. Researchers should refer to EPSRC’s cross-ICT priority Safe and secure ICT, which describes our aspirations.

Benefit to society

Distributed systems are increasingly able to provide a wide range of benefits to society in a multitude of applications. Researchers should consider the challenges that will be relevant in developing technologies with the most ambitious aims and societal benefit. These challenges include scalability, interoperability and reliability.

We aim for greater collaboration with researchers working on the wider problems associated with application domains, for example the Internet of Things and the research area of Pervasive and ubiquitous computing.

Engaging with industry

Researchers should link their research to real world tests and use-case examples to guide studies and generate long-term results. They should also continue to engage with industrial project partners where this leads to increased impact.

New developments in software engineering

The complexity of networked systems is growing and approaches such as software defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualisation (NFV) are becoming increasingly important. At the same time, distributed computing and applications are becoming more prevalent and we expect to see more researchers increasingly engaging with developments in software engineering to achieve advances.


To increase impact across research in this area, we expect to see researchers running large-scale, real world trials through increased engagement with the existing testbed and experimental network infrastructure. This includes EPSRC-funded infrastructure such as the National Dark Fibre Infrastructure Service (NDFIS) and the UK Interconnected test beds to support a research and innovation internet environment.

Why we're doing it

The portfolio in this area is large and a number of UK researchers and research organisations are international leaders in this area.

There is significant industrial interest. The balance of researchers at different career stages is healthy and there is successful community collaboration.

There has been significant growth in this portfolio, however, and a proportion of the portfolio has not considered the real world validity or application domain. A smaller, but still substantial, portfolio is considered sufficient to address challenges in this area.

Developments in ICT networks and distributed systems research are likely to contribute to the development of the Internet of Things, and solving problems in fields as diverse as:

These developments, though, are likely to be challenge driven, collaborative and multidisciplinary. To tackle these challenges, more collaborations will be needed with researchers in the software engineering and pervasive and ubiquitous computing areas, as well as involvement from academics and users working in application domains.

As cybersecurity threats only materialise in a connected system, evidence is very strong that research in this area can improve cybersecurity.

As demands on connectivity increase and data traffic grows, we expect that research in this area will draw together a broad array of technologies – from wireless communications to optical communications. We also expect research to lead to solutions in enabling connectivity.

View evidence sources used to inform our research strategies.

Past projects, outcomes and impact

Last updated: 21 December 2022

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