Shining the Spotlight - Dimitra Simeonidou

Shining the Spotlight - Dimitra Simeonidou

In this article, we shine the spotlight on Dimitra Simeonidou, Professor of the High Performance Networks (HPN) Group and Director of the Smart Internet Lab at the University of Bristol, and also Technical Lead and Chief Scientific Officer for Bristol is Open.

Ds Photo 1What is your role?

I hold a number of roles. I am Professor of the High Performance Networks (HPN) Group at the University of Bristol and Director of the Smart Internet Lab, a centre based at the University of Bristol. I am also the Technical Lead and Chief Scientific Officer of Bristol is Open, a joint venture between Bristol City Council and Bristol University.

What do your roles involve?

In the HPN Group there are 45 researchers, and a professional team of up to 20 PhD students. Our work is focused on research in networking, mainly looking at optical networks and wired packet networks. We carry out research on large technical environments such as national networks, global networks, and infrastructure, investigating new network connectivity and data centre architectures on a very large scale around the world.

The Smart Internet Lab consisting of around 200 academics and researchers, brings together people like myself who are working on wired communications and HPN, with those who are working on wireless communications or applications that need new digital infrastructures such as transport, cities, health, etc. Within the centre we undertake research across these technology domains, and are one of few places in Europe that combine technical abilities to address light communication issues across wireless, wired technologies and IoT, for autonomous vehicles, city policing environments or smart cities. 

In the last 4 years, I have been involved with Bristol is Open, where I am responsible for designing a test bed for a smart city experimentation or a city-scale. Researching smart city initiatives further in order to deliver smart services to our citizens, it became clear that what we needed was a tool that represented the city environment and could allow us to learn not just about the smart technology side, but also about the kind of services we could deliver. We put a proposal to the then Mayor of Bristol, George Ferguson, to create an open test bed for the benefit of the city, but also to educate ourselves, motivate new work, drive new commercial innovation. This is where the idea of Bristol as an open and programmable city came from. Our idea is to transfer the experience to a lot of similar initiatives, not only in the UK but around the world, creating a community, leadership in terms of smart cities and a number of startup organisations. 

What do you enjoy most about your roles?

What I enjoy most is the diversity. In the last 20 years, I have been in this industry, the change has been enormous. When I started my career, I was working on submarine networks, a key technology that enabled the global Internet of today. Throughout my professional life I have witnessed and contributed to shaping the global telecommunication network. It has been exceptional, that I have seen the world change through communications. What we see now is a second revolution which is parallel to what happened with the internet, and we see this coming very fast. All areas of life are becoming digital and change is happening every day. There is an opportunity to introduce new technologies every day and potentially change the world. We can see the impact of what we are producing at Bristol University and the effect that it has in all ways, in science, industry but also people's everyday lives. This is something I very much enjoy, having impact, while having fun at the same time -  having fun is very important!

The second thing I enjoy, and a very big part of my job, is educating and mentoring people and producing the next generation of skills in this field. The UK and Europe need these kinds of skills.

What is your background? What did you study? How did you get into this area?

I studied physics at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece, so I am an engineer that started as a physicist. I became very interested in light applications and applied to do a PhD at the University of Essex, studying with one of the pioneers of optical communications at BT Research Labs. From there I moved to Alcatel Submarine Networks and I was incredibly lucky to ultimately lead the team that designed and delivered the first transatlantic optical network. After this I had too many ideas, and although being in a company is a valuable experience, I had the opportunity through my academic career to innovate and research those ideas.

What are you looking forward to in your field or area of expertise?

We are going to experience a growth in innovation. We need to invest in completely new communication infrastructures to handle the volume of data, which will enable commercial, industrial and societal benefits. Communications networks are going to make a huge leap. My team is leading research on 5G in the UK. For the first time, we will be able to link what we are doing in communications with what is happening in the data space. If you look at data and the whole digitisation of the environment, in the next few years there will be about one million devices per square kilometre communicating with each other. We have the opportunity to use communication networks that are directly going to be serving, or designed to serve vertical applications to solve challenges. In transport for instance, autonomous cars, and optimising fuel consumption will reduce pollution and congestion. Very fast, very high capacity communication networks will be linked with massive amounts of data, monitoring and providing information, enabling us to solve societal and industrial problems.

If you got stranded on a desert Island and granted three items, what would they be and why?

My Kindle, to be able to read all the books I have as I never have enough time to sit down and read! I come from an area in Greece that produces some of the best wine in the world, so the second item would be a crate of my home town wine. The third Item is more difficult! With my books and my wine, I probably have everything I need as long as someone comes and picks me up, when my Kindle runs out of battery! 

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