ICT networks and distributed systems

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 and the design of intelligent networks and distributed systems.

We aim to reduce the size of this research area as a proportion of the EPSRC portfolio during the current Delivery Plan period, to allow other areas to grow. At the end of the period, we aim to have retained a strong, substantial portfolio in this area while encouraging researchers to consider how their work can address challenges across related areas, particularly in the following areas:

  • Researchers in this area have much to contribute to cyber-security. 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
  • Distributed systems are becoming increasingly able to provide a wide range of benefits to society in a multitude of applications. Researchers should consider the challenges (e.g. scalability, interoperability and reliability) that will be relevant in developing technologies with the most ambitious aims and societal benefit. We aim for greater collaboration with researchers working on the wider problems associated with application domains such as the Internet of Things and in the area of Pervasive and Ubiquitous Computing
  • Researchers should link their research to real-world tests and use-case examples to guide studies and generate long-term results, and should continue to engage with industrial project partners where this leads to increased impact
  • 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 (RIIE).


The portfolio in this area is large and a number of UK researchers and research organisations are internationally leading. There is significant industrial interest, the balance of researchers at different career stages is healthy and there is successful community collaboration. (Evidence source 1,2) There has been significant growth in this portfolio in the previous Delivery Plan period, however, and a proportion of the portfolio has not considered the real-world validity or application domain. (Evidence source 1,2) A smaller, but still substantial, portfolio is considered sufficient to address challenges in this area. (Evidence source 2)

Developments in ICT Networks and Distributed Systems research are likely to contribute to the development of the Internet of Things (Evidence source 3), and solving problems in fields as diverse as data science, finance, healthcare, energy (e.g. in the research area Energy Efficiency - End Use Energy Demand), industry and manufacturing (e.g. under the EPSRC Challenge Theme, Manufacturing the Future), as well as many other aspects of modern infrastructure. (Evidence source 2,4) 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. (Evidence source 3,4,5)

As cyber-security threats only materialise in a connected system, evidence is very strong that research in this area can improve cyber-security. (Evidence source 1,2,6)

As demands on connectivity increase and data traffic grows year-on-year, (Evidence source 7) we expect that research in this area will draw together a broad array of technologies, from wireless communications to optical communications, and lead to solutions in enabling connectivity. (Evidence source 4,5,7)

This area will contribute to all of the Outcomes but most strongly to the Connected and Resilient Nation Outcomes over a shorter timeframe. The following Ambitions in the Productive, Connected, Resilient and Healthy Nation Outcomes are particularly relevant:

P4: Drive business innovation through digital transformation

This research area is expected to contribute to development of distributed sensor networks (including the Internet of Things) that will benefit a wide variety of industries.

C2: Achieve transformational development and use of the Internet of Things

This area is expected to be a key enabler in the development of the Internet of Things, enabling information to be shared among distributed sensors.

C4: Ensure a safe and trusted cyber society

This area is expected to be a key enabler in improving the cyber-security of networked systems.

R2: Ensure a reliable infrastructure which underpins the UK economy

This area is expected to contribute to development of the reliable communications infrastructure that will be needed as the number of connected devices increases rapidly in the near future.

H1: Transform community health and care

This area is expected to contribute to development of distributed sensing and care infrastructure, and wireless transmission of real-time health and diagnostic information.

  1. Community and user engagement (individual input, group feedback, team visits/events, evidence-gathering and analysis).
  2. Input from the ICT Strategic Advisory Team (SAT), the Manufacturing the Future SAT and Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014 panellists.
  3. Government Office for Science, The Internet of Things: Making the Most of the Second Digital Revolution (PDF), (2014).
  4. NGMN Alliance, 5G White Paper, (2015).
  5. 5G PPP Architecture Working Group, View on 5G Architecture (PDF), (2016).
  6. Cabinet Office, The UK Cyber Security Strategy, (2011).
  7. Cisco, Cisco Visual Networking Index: Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update, 2015–2020 White Paper, (2016). 

Research area connections

This diagram shows the top 10 connections between Research Areas within the EPSRC research portfolio. The depth of the segment relates to value of grants and the width of the segment relates to the number of grants shared by those two Research Areas. Please click to see the related Research Area rationale.


We aim to reduce this area as a proportion of the EPSRC portfolio.

Visualising our Portfolio (VoP)
Visualising our portfolio (VoP) is a tool for users to visually interact with the EPSRC portfolio and data relationships.

EPSRC support by research area in ICT networks and distributed systems (GoW)
Search EPSRC's research and training grants.