NEC builds smart campus at University of Murcia

  • December 13, 2022
  • Steve Rogerson

Japanese technology giant NEC is building a smart campus network for the University of Murcia in Spain that will provide an experimental 5G platform for student education and research innovation.

The smart campus will include Fiware-based data spaces and an enhanced IoT ecosystem designed to improve energy efficiency for the university.

To implement the project, NEC and its partners will deploy a private, multipurpose 5G system within the university’s Espinardo campus providing a research facility and testbed for the study of 5G networks, edge computing, data spaces and IoT ecosystems. Using the smart campus platform, students will develop 5G networking and IoT skills, while researchers will have access to one of Europe’s most advanced environments for novel 5G technology and data space research.

University administration can also make use of the system to improve operations.

“We are looking to explore the development of solutions beyond the current conception of smart cities and infrastructures,” said Antonio Skarmeta, University of Murcia strategic project coordinator. “We want advanced, future solutions that can integrate dynamic and intelligent systems and adapt to the needs of each user. Our smart campus platform is an integral part of this vision.”

To encourage research, the IoT architecture of the Espinardo campus will include Fiware, the open-source technology framework for creating smart products and federated data spaces. Students and researchers can use Fiware to harness open-source, IoT building blocks for their own work, while ensuring it complies with Etsi NGSI-LD, the European Union’s standard for context information management.

Key to the deployment of the private 5G system is edge computing, which includes the 5G features of network slicing and edge cloud orchestration. While still experimental, these technologies are needed to deploy securely different university research projects to the network and manage network resources.

“It is both a pleasure and a huge challenge to manage this ambitious project because it combines several core technologies of the future: artificial intelligence, advanced 5G networking and distributed computing,” said Hicham Chiker, project manager at NEC Ibérica. “By creating a working system that uses these, we are providing a reference for future initiatives in the same direction.”

To incorporate edge computing, NEC, in collaboration with other team members, is integrating edge computing extensions into the university’s smart campus, private 5G system and IoT framework. A management and orchestration framework is also planned for the 5G IoT ecosystem.

“Without network slicing, you cannot properly isolate different user groups and they might conflict,” said Ernö Kovacs, senior manager of data ecosystems and standards at NEC Laboratories Europe. “Network slicing lets you achieve isolation and is one of the advantages of 5G. In today’s public networks, this is not yet available for general use. With edge orchestration it’s a similar situation – the technology is envisaged but not really available for experimentation. What the University of Murcia needs is the ability to create secure, connected data spaces within edge systems and the cloud; this will let researchers, students and university administration collaborate using shared data with varying levels of access.”

To achieve this, different data spaces will run in parallel, protected and isolated by the network, while adjusting automatically to different locations and uses of the data. This will create an intelligent information system throughout the campus.

In addition to research, the University of Murcia is committed to reducing its carbon footprint by conserving energy. For example, using its growing network of IoT sensors the university monitors and controls energy use of its buildings. To help manage the university’s overall compute energy use, NEC is implementing its CCOC cloud city operations centre, which will oversee the data needs of the Espinardo campus in real time.

To link IoT entities together in data spaces, the CCOC will include the Fiware context broker, NEC NGSI-LD Scorpio Broker, which will help grow the university’s IoT ecosystem in a stable and scalable way. The university smart campus network is expected to go live next year.

Spain’s Centre for the Development of Technology & Innovation – Centro para el Desarrollo Tecnológico y la Innovación (CDTI) – is leading the smart campus project. The smart campus network is funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and is a collaboration between the University of Murcia and domain technology experts.