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Research areas

As illustrated by our motto Developing the Science of Networks – IMDEA Networks identifies and addresses major scientific and engineering challenges in communications and computer networks, and also aims to develop these results by bringing them into practical deployments. The nature of these challenges varies with ever-greater rapidity. To ensure the relevance of our research activities, we continuously adjust our research agenda to stay at the forefront of technological innovation. We organize our scientific activities into research areas that reflect our current working priorities, ensuring sufficient flexibility to allow us to respond to emerging technological challenges. The research mission of our Institute also adapts to the strengths of our growing research team and our external collaborators.

The research work at IMDEA Networks is led by Joerg Widmer, who is the Research Director of the Institute and therefore responsible for its research direction.

Currently, our scientific work focuses on the following three general areas:


Network Protocols and AlgorithmsWireless Networking


Networked Systems and Algorithms

Scientific Director of "Networked Systems and Algorithms": Arturo Azcorra.

Any network has a structure and needs protocols to achieve its objectives. The researchers of IMDEA Networks Institute have an extensive expertise in architectures and protocols for communication networks, e.g., for network topology design, routing, forwarding, packet classification, in-network storage, congestion control, and media access control. Besides, we have research interests in other networking domains such as social networks, energy networks, and transportation networks.

Our research takes a multi-disciplinary approach to the design and understanding of network protocols and architectures. We go beyond technological constraints and account also for social and economic factors. For example, our research on Internet routing and forwarding accounts for the multitude of Internet service providers and their individual economic interests. In working on either centralized or decentralized solutions to problems, we assume that perfect information is never available. To deal with such uncertainty as well as selfishness of individual entities, our analysis adopts game-theoretic techniques and online algorithms. Our protocol design assumes that behavior of counterparts is always unpredictable to some extent. Hence, the designed protocols rely on continuous learning and adaptation as the main modes of operation.

Practicality is another distinguishing aspect of our research. Real data serves as a departing point for our analytical efforts as well as a basis for validating our analytical conclusions. For instance, our large-scale simulation studies of Internet routing rely on real Internet topologies. Furthermore, we implement our theoretical ideas and make the prototypes available to the public, either directly or through our commercial partners.

An important focus of our work is on the systems side of networks. For example, we explore tradeoffs between simplicity and expressiveness of packet processing engines, new abstractions for heterogeneous control planes, and network virtualization techniques. We also work on networking aspects that pertain to cloud computing.

This research area targets the following objectives:

  • Novel architectures and protocols for behavioral networking
    • The Internet is modeled as an association of independent entities
    • Behavior of counterparts is not taken for granted
    • Continuous learning and adaptation are main modes of operations
  • Bridging the gap between network economics and networking
    • Deployment of innovative designs becomes the primary concern
    • Economic and political landscapes of the Internet are analyzed with higher fidelity
    • Economic-political knowledge guides the technical design
  • Making it easy to develop and deploy reliable, high-performance networked systems
    • Correct functioning of networks is paramount
    • SDN (Software Defined Networking) revolutionizes networking, and carries a lot of risk
    • New abstractions are developed to simplify network management and utilize the underlying network infrastructure more effectively

Wireless Networking

Scientific Director of "Wireless Networking": Joerg Widmer.

Given the scarcity of wireless spectrum resources and the rising demand for mobile applications, optimizing wireless communication and improving wireless network architectures is currently one of the most important and challenging research topics in networking. The proliferation of inexpensive, high-rate mobile devices and ubiquitous connectivity opens up a vast spectrum of possible new services but also poses unique challenges concerning scalability, interference and the unpredictability of the wireless medium.

IMDEA Networks is involved in a number of different wireless research areas. We are investigating emerging wireless technologies such as extremely high frequency communication for 5G and wireless LAN and Visible Light Communication, which promise to increase wireless data rates by an order of magnitude or more. Our work on capacity improvements aslo focuses on topics such as ultra-dense networks, intelligent interference management, cooperative coding and network coding, improved medium access control mechanisms that make use of advanced physical layer technologies such as MIMO, successive interference cancellation, etc.

At the same time, mobile network architectures need to support these new technologies as well as new use cases, and thus become more flexible. We perform research on network architectures for 5G and beyond, specifically focusing on software-defined networks (SDN)-based architectures and network function virtualization (NFV). In addition, wireless networks are becoming more heterogeneous as they are gaining traction in more diverse use cases such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and intermittently connected or delay-tolerant networks, unmanned aerial vehicular networks and underwater networks. The research activities span medium access control (MAC), routing, error control and transport protocols, both as standalone entities and as part of cross-layer design frameworks. To improve the flexibility and programmability of future wireless technologies, we also explore novel programmable interfaces that expose low-level operations to foster network evolution and enable performance optimization and service customization. For a number of the above use case scenarios, efficient and accurate device localization is highly useful.

We recognize the importance of bridging the gap between theoretic results and applied wireless research and have deployed a range of wireless testbeds (for mm-wave, visible light communication, 5G, IEEE 802.11, and others) on which we implement and evaluate our ideas.

This research area targets the following objectives:

  • Increasing wireless network capacity
    • Millimeter wave networking and visible light communication networks to support very wideband ultra-high speed communication
    • Extremely dense networks, small cells, and wireless backhauling
    • Interference management, opportunistic scheduling, adaptive coding and modulation, and traffic offloading
  • Improving mobile network architectures
    • Software defined networking (SDN) for mobile networks, wireless virtualization
    • Network function virtualization (NFV), NFV layered architectures, interoperability of NFV solutions, and NFV infrastructure federation
    • Energy-efficient, robust, fair and high-throughput communication protocols for SDN/SDR-based cellular networks, context-aware services, and cloud-based data centers.
    • Cloud RAN concepts, with flexible split of the radio access
  • Supporting heterogeneous wireless networks
    • Mobile indoor localization for network optimization as well as location based services
    • Support of vehicular and aerial networks, as well as intermittently connected networks, delay-tolerant networks and underwater networks
    • Collaborative wideband spectrum monitoring

Network Measurements and Analytics

Scientific Director of "Network Measurements and Analytics": Albert Banchs.

The rapid evolution of mobile portable systems and the Internet of Things (IoT) has given birth to a rich ecosystem of applications, personalization and services that is changing the way billions of users communicate and interact with their environment. This digitalization of the world has allowed new innovative applications with new levels of personalization and the ability to interact the environment. However, this trend is also producing large volumes of data which may raise privacy  and security threats unseen in previous networked technologies while also generating unknown traffic patterns and performance bottlenecks which can have a negative impact on the network and user experience.

At IMDEA Networks, we are involved in novel research efforts to empirically illuminate how users, networks, devices and applications interact, behave and perform in the wild.

Our research is particularly focused on conducting analytical measurements of real-world networked systems, with a strong interest in understanding their use (and abuse) as well as the performance, privacy and security challenges present in emerging networking technologies. Our research team also develops Big Data solutions to analyse and process large-scale traffic-, network- and application-generated data fast and correctly.

At IMDEA Networks we engage and collaborate with users, cyber-activists, industry and regulators to identify and address important problems of societal, industrial and academic interest from a practical angle. Often times, our researchers are responsible for developing practical tools to assist the different stakeholders to understand how users, devices, networks, services, and applications interconnect, perform and behave behind the scenes.

Specifically, this research area targets the following objectives:

  • Network measurements
    • Active and Passive measurements
    • Network and traffic characterization
    • Troubleshooting and performance evaluation
    • Social network analysis
    • Cloud-mobile integration
  • Big Data
    • Applied machine learning and pattern recognition
    • Data analytics for cybersecurity and anomaly detection
    • Human-data interaction (HDI) and visualization
  • Privacy and Security
    • IoT, cyber-physical systems and mobile computing
    • Online tracking, advertising and ad-blocking
    • Fraud prevention
    • Mobile malware and threat detection
    • Data transparency and privacy-preserving tools