With the aim of making networks more flexible, Telecom SudParis and Airbus have created a joint innovation laboratory. Academic and industrial researchers will be working together on the challenge of placing intelligence at the heart of networks.
Challenges of tomorrow’s network infrastructure
Networks today are highly static and preconfigured, which limits their ability to adapt to shifting contexts and makes them very costly to maintain and run. If network infrastructure, including configuration, control and management, was more dynamic, it would be possible to handle a wide variety of needs, while optimizing efficiency. The idea is therefore to allow networks to evolve by introducing artificial intelligence (specifically machine learning), for them to be more flexible. This is an area of research that particularly interests Airbus Defence & Space, which wishes to offer more intelligent and useful solutions to its clients and contribute to developing the most cutting-edge artificial intelligence technologies.
To face this challenge, Telecom SudParis and Airbus have partnered up through a joint innovation laboratory, named “Intelligence in Networks”. Its purpose is to combine forces and accelerate research into how artificial intelligence could be added into networks.
At present, we are far from being able to roll out artificial intelligence in networks on a large scale. It is crucial to ensure that algorithm operations are sufficiently understood and explainable to guarantee that there is no risk, especially since any problem that arises in an automated system can have a domino effect. “We need to design intelligent, reliable, rational, interpretable and explainable algorithms, to ensure that decisions are perfectly controlled and systems run smoothly,” explains Djamal Zeghlache, professor at Telecom SudParis and head of the Networks and Mobile Multimedia Services Department. “Only under these conditions will we be able to introduce artificial intelligence into networks and deploy it in real network infrastructure,” he continues.
The birth of “Intelligence in Networks”
Created in February 2021, the Airbus and Telecom SudParis joint innovation laboratory is the fruit of two years of discussions between experts at Airbus and the school’s researchers. Marc Cartigny, executive expert in fixed and mobile IP network architecture at Airbus Defence & Space and member of the Telecom SudParis research committee, remembers his first talks with Zeghlache: “We were both convinced that only artificial intelligence could help solve the problem of network flexibility, in the context of multiple combinatorics where decisions must be made quickly. We had identified the advances needed to design more agile, programmable, controllable networks, that can be optimized while operating.”
The decision was made to combine the mathematical abilities of Telecom SudParis researchers and Airbus experts, to move towards this goal. The “Intelligence in Networks” laboratory was created. Its aim: to build an intelligent control plan for networks and automate configuration, control of network services and channeling application flows. To do so, the Airbus teams and Telecom Sudparis researchers use a mixture of combinatorial optimization, machine learning and network modelling.
Telecom SudParis and Airbus, a fruitful collaboration
The partnership between the industrial experts and academic researchers is based on trust, with each stakeholder’s interests being met. For Telecom SudParis, it is an opportunity to tackle concrete problems faced by industrial bodies. For Airbus, it is a way to develop skills, make use of new technologies and offer more effective solutions to their clients.
The joint innovation laboratory is home to PhD candidates, postdoctoral students and researchers. Based in Issy-les-Moulineaux, teams can meet in person to speed up the collaboration. Other researchers from Institut Mines-Télécom will join over time to strengthen the partnership.
Experimental platforms, specific to Telecom SudParis and Airbus, have been shared, and seven major projects have been defined under the “Intelligence for Networks” program. There is no end date scheduled, as the project is being built gradually - its long-term future will depend on the success of this initial phase, which aims to make networks more intelligent.
“The added value of this ecosystem is that it creates a collaborative environment in which researchers can test and validate their methods, and in time, transfer them to operating systems,” explains Zeghlache.
According to Airbus, “setting up the joint laboratory took significant investment and heavy equipment, with shared premises created to promote efficiency,” states Cartigny.
The collaboration is already bearing fruit. The first experiments show that artificial intelligence allows a network to continue to function with greater efficiency following a breach. This research has already been published. The studies will be continued, to further develop network reliability while ensuring that each stage is consolidated to guarantee the robustness of results. Building on this success, the joint laboratory will extend its scope to cybersecurity and the field of quantum research. Exciting developments are on the horizon for this exceptional collaboration.
Photo credits: Airbus