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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. Currently, our research is focusing on the following three general areas:


Network Protocols and AlgorithmsWireless NetworkingEnergy-efficient 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, innetwork 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. Our protocol design assumes that behaviour 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 apply software verification techniques to develop tools that help network builders create more reliable networks. 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 becoming paramount
    • Software Defined Networking is revolutionizing networking, but carries a lot of risk
    • Leverage increases in computational power and bandwidth to predict future reliability
    • Resolve difficult choices at runtime to increase performance

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 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 wireless interference and the unpredictability of the wireless medium.

IMDEA Networks is involved in a number of different wireless research areas. Part of our efforts aim at improving existing wireless technologies such as WiFi (IEEE 802.11) and LTE, for example, through the design of opportunistic scheduling mechanisms and interference management schemes. We further investigate emerging wireless technologies such as extremely high frequency communication (e.g. IEEE 802.11ad) and Visible Light Communication. Our work on wireless capacity improvements focuses on topics such as 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. We have an extensive track record in the areas of ad hoc and mesh networks, in particular on routing and MAC layer design, and apply them in several contexts, such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Networks. To improve the flexibility and programmability of future wireless technologies, we explore novel programmable interfaces that expose low-level operations to foster network evolution and enable performance optimization and service customization. One of the goals of this work is to implement application specific optimizations, for example, to provide efficient wireless video streaming. We also study novel solutions to use wireless technologies for localization.

We recognize the importance of bridging the gap between theoretic results and applied wireless research and have deployed a range of wireless testbeds (IEEE 802.11, software defined radios) on which we implement and evaluate our ideas.

This research area targets the following objectives:

  • Optimization of wireless networking
    • Opportunistic scheduling
    • Adaptive coding and modulation
    • Interference management in dense networks
    • Traffic offloading in heterogeneous networks
  • Heterogeneous wireless networks
    • We are facing the proliferation of many different wireless technologies
    • Supporting them in the current Internet is highly complex
    • Existing solutions are based on technology specific interfaces
    • The wireless Internet architecture needs to be rethought for efficient support of heterogeneity
  • Self organizing wireless networks
    • Scaling and increased heterogeneity require self-organization
    • Solutions needed to track and exploit changing spatial traffic loads
    • Complex dynamics of wireless system and user behavior are involved
    • Significant performance gains and energy savings can be achieved

Energy-efficient Networking

Scientific Director of "Energy-efficient Networking": Albert Banchs.

Energy production, distribution, and consumption are becoming topics of interest worldwide, due to issues like climate change and the greenhouse effect. IMDEA Networks is actively involved in research conducted to increase energy performance with the use of computation and communication. These research efforts can be grouped into two lines. The first line involves research that attempts to save energy in computing and communication systems, like computers and networks, named energy efficient ICT. The second line involves research that attempts to design ICT systems that improve energy production and distribution, and optimize consumption, named ICT for energy efficiency.

In the area of energy-efficient ICT, researchers of the Institute have developed techniques for many different areas, ranging from wireless communication to cloud computing. For instance, they have proposed techniques to save energy in cellular networks. One of these techniques is switching off access points in periods of low traffic or in areas of high density of base stations. This may require cell phone operators to reach agreements so that some of their base stations are switched off and their customers reassigned to base stations of other operators. The savings achieved by such agreements has been studied as well. Another technique studied to save energy in cellular networks is to offload traffic from the cellular networks to other networks. Finally, the use of renewable sources of energy to power cellular base stations has been evaluated.

In other types of wireless networks, techniques for energy saving using opportunistic relaying have been proposed. In wireline networks, research efforts have been conducted to propose algorithms for smart routing and scheduling of packets to save energy in underused networks. One interesting line is the study of the optimal deployment of Energy Efficient Ethernet (IEEE 802.3az) equipment, where the effect of packet coalescing in the energy consumption of links that follow this standard has been studied. Finally, techniques for energy saving in data centers have been proposed in the form of algorithms to schedule and manage the assignment of virtual machines to the physical machines of a data center.

In the area of ICT for energy efficiency, researchers from the institute have proposed techniques to provide good service for the users of electric-vehicle charging stations. These solutions use concepts taken from networking, like load balancing and fairness. Current lines of research in this area include scheduling appliances in order to reduce electricity costs in households, and the use of social networks and game theory to modify user energy consumption patterns.