As part of his drive to “rejuvenate Bell Labs for the new era”, Marcus Weldon, the firm’s president, told journalists yesterday that Alcatel-Lucent’s R&D arm had opened up a new video research facility in Cambridge, UK, and that 5G innovation was crucial in supporting the work there.
“The focus [in Cambridge] is on real-time video content delivery from and to devices, which are increasingly mobile,” said Weldon, who is also Alcatel-Lucent’s CTO. “We’re looking at ways to optimise the creation, processing, storage and delivery of video from anywhere, anytime to any device.”
Weldon added that the amount of video traffic on today’s mobile networks, while substantial, was nothing compared with anticipated future volumes – driven not only by professional content, but by user-generated and semi-professional sources.
“I think we’re going to see a hundredfold explosion in wireless network capacity, largely due to the real-time delivery of video-rich objects,” said Weldon. “That’s going to drive the need to innovate at the network layer and 5G will be part of that.”
By having multiple radios on a box – including Wi-Fi and cellular – the Bell Labs president said 5G would be able to provide a continuous radio interface and so enable video content delivery from cell to cell. “This is going to be very important if we’re going to source so much content to mobile,” he said.
Weldon added, however, that when mobile users are hooked up to fixed networks via Wi-Fi – which is around 70 per cent of the time – he didn’t see radio capacity as an issue. “But we do care about the 30 per cent of time spent on truly mobile networks,” he said.
Bell Labs dubs its video research facility in Cambridge, located near the university, as an ‘antenna site’. It’s part of Weldon’s plan to bring Bell Labs closer to innovation communities around the word. “It’s one of the few expansions Bell Labs has done historically,” he said.
He describes Cambridge as a “hot bed” of wireless and video technology research, and the wider UK operator TV market as being innovative from both a technological and business model perspective with a wide array of content delivery platforms available (satellite, IPTV, digital terrestrial and cable).
The work done in Cambridge, said Weldon, builds on Bell Labs innovation surrounding MPEG encoding, compressive sensing and video processing. “Increasingly it’s going to be the rendering of content coming from amateur and semi-professional video sources to create new experiences,” he said.
The Bell Labs Cambridge team is co-located with the headquarters of Alcatel-Lucent’s IP Video business, which is headed up by Paul Larbey.
Larbey has a clear idea about what he wants to achieve. “We should be able to have exactly the same content line-up, with the same experience, on any device in any location,” he said. “Everything we do is about enabling that to happen.”
In charge of the Cambridge antenna site is Bo Olofsson, a former research product director at British Sky Broadcasting. He also heads up Bell Labs Global Video Research. Olofsson believes consumer video adoption is leap-frogging professional use, illustrated by the ability of Samsung Galaxy S5 users to shoot 4K (ultra HD) video.
“This affects the eco-system of network delivery and at Bell Labs we need to think five years out,” he said. “We want to become video-centric hub.”
Another Bell Labs antenna site was opened in Tel Aviv, in May 2014, focusing on cloud technologies. A third under Weldon’s busy watch – he was announced Bell Labs president only in November – is scheduled for later this year.
“It won’t be in Europe and it won’t be in the Asia-Pacific, but it will be associated with hot beds of entrepreneurship and innovation,” said Weldon. He did not disclose what the third site’s innovation focus would be.