There are some glorious ironies in this business. In his interview with Global Telecoms Business, Thierry Bonhomme of France Telecom's Orange Labs on the edge of Paris says he has a unit of the labs in Boston so that it is close to the world of Bell Labs.
The industrial break-ups of telecoms in the 1980s in the US and the consolidation of the industry over the past few years mean that Bell Labs — the home of much of the innovation that has changed our world, including the transistor and the integrated circuit — is now part of Alcatel-Lucent.
And the person in ultimate charge of Bell Labs, the chief technology officer of Alcatel-Lucent, is based just a few kilometres from Orange Labs, right in the centre of Paris.
Olivier Baujard was appointed Alcatel's CTO in January 2005 and became CTO of the whole of Alcatel-Lucent when the merger with Lucent became official two years later. He's also been CEO of Alcatel-Lucent France since January 2008.
The technological inventions from Bell Labs at Murray Hill, New Jersey, have transformed the world by bringing innovations such as the transistor and the communications satellite, as well as the Unix operating system and Claude Shannon's information theory, work in today's Alcatel-Lucent will continue to change the world.
"People in this industry have a passion," says Baujard. "It's about creating a new lifestyle. "You're innovating the service business or you're bringing modern life into developing countries. It makes the difference between having a decent life or not having a decent life."
In the west we are so accustomed to the benefits of technology. "We may even be a little cynical about them from time to time," says Baujard.
But thanks to telecoms, emerging nations are developing faster than could have been imagined, he says, and at lower cost. "That's part of the excitement. There's a sense that this industry can help the well being, globally, of poor people."
We turn from emerging markets to the world at large. What are the key innovations that Alcatel-Lucent will have to manage over the next few years?
"We are moving towards true broadband wireless," says Baujard, who believes there is room in the market for both LTE and WiMax. It's wrong to say there's a confrontation, he says, but there is competition. "This isn't a problem. Given the size of the market it's not that much of a challenge."
At least, says Baujard, there are only two standards. "The challenge of having several standards is not that much of a challenge — especially if it is just LTE and WiMax."
Alcatel-Lucent has already supplied 22 commercial WiMax networks and is working on 70 trials. "We understand there are 300 WiMax networks around the world which are deployed or in trial so that means we are in close to one out of three."
What will be the basis of the choice between WiMax and LTE: technical reasons, frequency allocations, and so on, he suggests. "There is a more structured view of the future than there was two or three years ago."
Mobile TV optimism
And the other area he's optimistic about is mobile TV, he says. "I am very optimistic. I am convinced there is potential for additional attractive services for mobile."
Over the next five years he believes that there will be rise in the demand for content over mobile, especially as power consumption of the chips falls, so that batteries can last for about three hours' daily use, "which starts to be reasonable", he says.
There will need to be a combination of 3G channels that are unicast to each consumer as required and mass-market digital channels that are broadcast. The bandwidth is not there for everything to be unicast, he notes: once there are seven or 10 simultaneous unicast users in one cell, its HSDPA capacity will become saturated, just for TV.
"There will be a need for broadcast capacity", integrated into the on-screen programme guide, says Baujard. "From the end user's perspective it doesn't show, but it will make a difference to the network."
Beyond mobile, the next decade will be the full IP decade, he says. Backhaul for WiMax and LTE will help, but everything is moving to IP. "In five years all the decisions will be taken, and in 10 years all the deployments will be made," he says. "It will be a true network end to end transformation."
Operators will need to reconfigure their networks, to manage traffic. "That's good for us. All the capabilities of IP end-to-end that were developed for fixed are now being transferred to wireless. That is a big opportunity for us." GTB