What’s left of Bell Laboratories is focusing on software product development on behalf of its parent company, Alcatel-Lucent. “We want to still be the innovation arm of Alcatel-Lucent (ALU) that continues to amaze and surprise people. But I think in order to do that we do have to change somewhat,” said Bell Labs’ Gee Rittenhouse. He added, “As the industry moves toward dynamic networks, distributed systems, Bell Labs also has to move toward those directions.”
Last month, ALU appointed Rittenhouse as the new leader of the nearly 90-year-old Bell Labs, known for inventing the first transistor, along with a whole host of other technological innovations and discoveries. During his tenure, Rittenhouse plans to steer Bell Labs more toward software products related to networking and cloud computing.
Increasingly, Bell Labs is collaborating with outside partners to solve major technological problems facing the IT industry. One such effort is the GreenTouch Consortium, which is focused on dramatically reducing the power needs of today’s telecommunication networks. Bell Labs and Alctatel-Lucent’s rivals like Huawei and ZTE, among others, are members of the group.
To bring more products to the market, Rittenhouse said Bell Labs will choose long-term projects that can result in near-term gains for the market. Although he declined to reveal specific projects at Bell Labs, he pointed to “immersive communication” as one area the research division has heavily invested time in. This involves examining what makes face-to-face conversations genuine, and how that experience can be replicated over long-distance communication.
“So research in applications, multimedia is just as important as research in physics,” Rittenhouse said. “Because if you are only in math, physics, optical, you are missing this big sea change,” he added.
AW Comment: The days of pure research are long gone. Today, companies have a very short time horizon and must get product to market quickly to maintain a competitive edge. This is especially true in the telecom equipment business, where low cost Chinese vendors Huawei and ZTE, have taken considerable market share from the previous incumbents and forced some (e.g. Nortel) out of business.
Here are a few articles on Bell Labs as the standard for innovation (may no longer be true):