Helping Internet users demand more from communication systems

The Centre for Quantifiable Quality of Service in Communication Systems (Q2S), hosted by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim, was among the initial 13 Norwegian Centres of Excellence (SFF) established. After ten years, its activities as an SFF centre are now drawing to a close.

“We know that the development of Internet services is almost exclusively technology-driven,” says Svein Johan Knapskog, Director of the Q2S centre. “It’s difficult for the individual user to know what to look for and what kind of quality to demand.”

The researchers at the Q2S have set their sights on doing something about that.

Photo: NTNU USER TESTING: At the centre’s Sense-it laboratory, researchers measure how users perceive Internet technology. (Photo: NTNU)

Objective measurements of quality

“Norwegian consumers are no more quality-conscious than consumers in other countries when seeking IT products and services. That’s how it was when our centre was established a decade ago, and for the most part it remains so today.”

“Quality is more than simply bandwidth,” explains Professor Knapskog. “It’s about audio and video quality, dependability and information security. One important change that has come about during this ten-year period is that the focus on security has grown stronger. There is also more attention paid to what we call perceived quality.”

The approach at this SFF centre has been to translate users’ perceptions into information that can be measured and described using Internet parameters.

“Our objective has been to develop methods of quantifying how good the various services are, whether we’re talking about audio, video, webpages or data transfer. With precise measurements to reflect users’ perception of quality, we have a very useful tool for testing and developing new services,” Professor Knapskog continues.

The Q2S centre’s research provides knowledge about the kinds of quality demands that consumers and society can place on technology development.

Q2S researchers have set up a laboratory, called Sense-it, where subjects are presented with video and audio technology and describe how they experience it. The researchers quantify and study the users’ perceptions. With know-how generated at the Q2S centre, researchers can correlate data from user surveys with quantifiable Internet parameters.

Photo: Kai Torgeir Dragland, NTNU Being a Centre of Excellence confers a higher profile and visibility that unquestionably helps to attract interesting researchers from abroad, says Svein Johan Knapskog, Director of the Q2S centre. (Photo: Kai Torgeir Dragland, NTNU) Experts for society and industry

“We are pleased with the extent of our publications during our period as an SFF centre, both in volume and quality,” states Professor Knapskog, who also points out that the centre has been enhancing competency by educating experts who contribute to the field.

So far, 19 students have earned their doctoral degrees during the ten-year period as an SFF centre, and another 11 will defend their theses by the end of 2012. “Our research is highly relevant for Norwegian and international industry. All but two of our graduates are working in Norwegian industry.”

But Professor Knapskog says there is still unrealised potential. “We are seeking more good collaborative projects with industry so that our results can be implemented in practice. There is a clear need for closer communication with producers of the technology, but ten years has not been enough time to make all it happen.”

The director emphasises that as an academic centre, the Q2S has worked well on important questions, but that its results are unlikely to be commercially applicable in the short term. “It often takes 20 years to develop a finished product from the time an idea germinates in academia. The results of our work will be applicable in probably five years’ time.”

Psychology and art

The centre has primarily fostered technological expertise, but some doctoral candidates have taken a slightly different angle.

“Sense-it, our perception laboratory, is situated in the interface between technology and art, where there are fewer equations and more experiences,” sums up the professor. Fields such as psychology and perception also enter the picture.

“We have recruited people from six different disciplines to the Q2S, and we’ve educated experts in areas as diverse as video quality, art, information security and IT networks. The idea behind this was that closely linking different disciplines would lead to a “core reaction”. We have achieved some of the progress we’d hoped for, but the interdisciplinary cooperation could perhaps have been even more productive.”

Vital European collaboration

Throughout its period as an SFF centre, the Q2S has been working closely with Germany’s University of Siegen and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology of Lausanne (EPFL).

“Two people from the EPFL have been affiliated with the centre with 20 per-cent positions. They’ve spent part of their time supervising students. In addition, the EPFL has lots of source material that we’ve used in our studies, including from the Montreux Jazz Festival.”

Professor Knapskog also says a broad range of international post-doctoral fellows have come to the Q2S centre on their own scholarships, some of whom have remained at NTNU as professors. “Being a Centre of Excellence confers a higher profile and visibility that unquestionably helps to attract interesting researchers from abroad.”

Once the period as an SFF centre concludes, the Q2S researchers will return to their respective departments at NTNU. “I hope we will still continue to collaborate across departments and with our international partners. Together we have found many interesting questions to investigate, and we look forward to a continuation of our research in this area,” concludes Professor Knapskog.

Centre for Quantifiable Quality of Service in Communication Systems (Q2S)
  • Objective: To develop expertise and solutions that can be used to ensure the quality of future Internet services relating to audio, video, websites or data.
  • Participants: Host institution is NTNU; partners are NTNU’s Department of Telematics and Department of Electronics and Telecommunications , Telenor and the Norwegian research and education network UNINETT.
  • Annual allocation from Research Council of Norway: NOK 12 million.
  • Total annual budget: roughly NOK 24 million.
  • Total man-years: roughly 30.

http://q2s.ntnu.no/

 

 

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