On the Job – With Mumford & Pals

[Our next stop on the Nortel tour is its wireless facility. This is at a different location in Ottawa, necessitating a short ride in the Nortel PR person’s car – tragically, a Toyota Rav4. Despite the fact that Mumford is about six inches taller than the LR editor, he insists on sitting in the back. In fact, Mumford is impeccably civilized throughout the day – putting the interviewer and everyone else we come across during the day at their ease. This consideration even extends to the car he drives to work – a modest North American saloon, rather than the luxury vehicle that someone in his position obviously could afford, but which might cause resentment at a company in the middle of a brutal downsizing operation.]

LR [in car]: How long have you worked at Nortel?

Mumford: Thirty-one years. I started August 30th, 1971.

LR: What made you stay here that long?

Mumford: Well, I had to make the decision to stay a number of times… Holy Mackerel! We’re going to get killed!!

[PR person puts the pedal to the metal with absolutely no apparent increase in the Rav4’s velocity, as we run a light that had been red for quite some time before we arrived at it.]

PR person: Huh – you can talk with your driving, Greg.

Mumford: Everyone criticizes my driving... As I was saying: It’s always been the diversity of opportunity that kept me here in the past. And now the company needs to be rebuilt, so I can’t leave now.

LR [ungluing hands from dash board]: So do you think Canadians are more loyal than Americans, then? Mumford: I hesitate to generalize, and blind loyalty serves no one. But Denis [Niles] hit on part of it. You should be where you are because of the people, because you respect and have confidence in your teammates, and because you believe you can win. None of that has anything to do with blind loyalty.

LR: Do you still enjoy it?

Mumford: Some days more than others. It would be fun to get into a more fun phase.

[A short discussion ensues on local wildlife. Visiting Ottawa is rather like starring in your own episode of Wild Kingdom.]

LR: I saw a big brown animal when I was driving up to your building this morning.

Mumford: Groundhog.

LR: Hey, I’m just asking.

Mumford: No, it was a groundhog.

LR: Wow, and they just wander around like that? Amazing!

[Mumford and PR person look at LR editor like he’s an idiot (no surprise there).]

PR person: Hit a deer once. Deer won.

Mumford [philosophically]: Deer always win.

[The Light Reading editor is still musing over that laconic utterance, when we arrive at Nortel’s wireless facility. I’m ushered into the office of Al Javed, VP, Wireless Networks Technology. Another room, another impressive view of Ottawa greenery.]

Al Javed: We’re the only company that offers infrastructure that complies with all the wireless standards. LR: What, all of them? Javed: Yes. [He rattles off eight or nine acronyms… GSM, CDMA, GPRS, 1XRT, UMTS, CDMA2000, and so on.]

LR: What do you think of Tahoe Networks?

Javed: Their founder is the same guy who founded Shasta – which we bought. Their technology is incremental, it’s not the huge leap forward that they are portraying it as. Micro-billing, for example: We’ve added that to Shasta. I was in a conference with them, and they seem to have forgotten that we are constantly adding to and upgrading the Shasta product.

[Javed takes us for a tour of the facility, during which we meet David Starks, manager of advanced wireless design at Nortel. Starks gives us a demonstration of how a laptop loaded with a combined 1x/CDMA wireless modem and 802.11 wireless modem can move between networks, seamlessly. This involves putting a laptop equipped with said device on a table on little squeaky casters and getting a Nortel technician to roll it from one side of the room to the other. It works. The Light Reading editor then has a go with the trolley, and it still works. There is a bit of a Godot-like silence while everyone stands around grinning at each other and the Light Reading editor tries, and fails, to think of any questions. We move on.]

David Starks: I work on technology beyond 3G.

LR [taken aback]: Beyond 3G? Aren’t you getting a bit ahead of yourself? Does this mean we can expect “legacy 3G” technology any day now?

Starks: No, no... well, not really…

Mumford: If you are going to be an industry leader you had better always be looking at the next technology, the next step beyond where we are now. That’s what David does.

Starks: We’re talking about really high speeds.

LR: How high?

Starks: High. Like, 20 megabits.

LR: Blimey.

[Starks gives us a demonstration of a technology that Nortel is working on called OFDM, or orthogonal frequency division multiplexing. It is really impressive (much better than the table on casters). He explains how Nortel is planning to develop prototypes that will combine OFDM with another technology called MIMO (multiple input, multiple output), which uses multiple antennas on a PDA or laptop to boost throughput to some seriously high speeds. The only hurdle seems to be that right now the OFDM part of the equipment weighs a few hundred pounds and occupies an entire laboratory table. Still, the Nortel team doesn’t seem phased by the challenges ahead.]

Starks [completing long complicated technical explanation]: ...so using OFDM you increase the capacity and spectral efficiency by a factor of 10 over 3G.

LR: So this is 4G?

Starks: I didn’t say that.

LR: How long until this stuff is small enough and affordable enough for me to buy it?

Starks: Seven to ten years.

Mumford: It won’t take ten. These things either happen or they don’t. If it’s the right solution it will materialize faster than we expect.

[It’s obvious even to our rudimentary editor-brain why Mumford has included this part of the Nortel campus in the tour: He wants to demonstrate that Nortel is still investing in the future of telecommunications. This prompts us to ask...]

LR: How much does Nortel spend on R&D these days, Greg?

Mumford: 20 percent [of revenues]. That’s less than last year, but more as a percentage because this year’s revenues were lower.

[We leave the wireless building to head back to the main Nortel campus. After our experience on the way over, both Greg and the Light Reading editor try to politely insist on sitting in the back seat of the "car"... Greg wins.]

Next page: Highway to Heck

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xos 12/4/2012 | 9:11:06 PM
re: On the Job – With Mumford & Pals A quick question -

Does Nortel have a reseller arrangement for Juniper's routers ??

xos 12/4/2012 | 9:11:06 PM
re: On the Job – With Mumford & Pals I will like to complement the guys at LR on a very interesting and well written article. Enjoyed reading it. A light hearted take on a company trying to ride out the telecom bust..

good work guys

MarauderNow 12/4/2012 | 9:10:55 PM
re: On the Job – With Mumford & Pals Just to clear things up... That cop, the one from the buslane, was very likely an Ontario Provincial Police officer. Here in Ottawa we're lucky enough to be served by four different sets of police... the Ottawa-Carleton Police (municipal), the Ontario Provincial Police (provincial), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (national) and the Canadian Military Police (national). They've each got their own "jurisdictions" so to speak... and the that bus lane was in OPP territory... so of course the police officer wasn't on a horse... she was OPP... :)
opti 12/4/2012 | 9:10:52 PM
re: On the Job – With Mumford & Pals First of all a very amusing article editor.

It shouldn't come as a surprise the attitude of the people at Nortel. They are focused, determined and very enjoyable to work with. I worked as a student and it was a very worthwhile experience to work with such a dedicated group of individuals who take pride in what they do.
silenceofthelambdas 12/4/2012 | 9:10:51 PM
re: On the Job – With Mumford & Pals Regarding the fine chronicle [1] of your day in the life of NortelG«÷s CTO and LR Ambassador:

I congratulate you on this engaging and informative piece of investigative journalism. At a time when telecom investors have been left aghast after peering into the terrifying well of company valuation metrics, along comes an exposition that re-ignites ones faith that NT will return to being a G«ˇblue-chipG«÷ property (as opposed to its recent G«ˇbrown chipG«÷ [2] hue). The wild Rav4 drive confirms that this company is again aggressively on the move (albeit in the bus lane), re-defining the rules of the new economy. If it is road-based, NT looks well-positioned, provided they can fix their poorly-timed policing devices (sorry, couldnG«÷t resist).

More striking however, was the articleG«÷s superb combination of technological disclosure, personality profiling, cultural study, informative sidebars and erudite conclusions, to make this the G«ˇlandmark articleG«÷ of the LR holiday season, and a G«ˇmust-readG«÷ (feedback welcome [3]). I hope that thereG«÷s a coffee-table hardback on the way. A cup-stain around MarcoG«÷s dome may be his only chance to look like a saint (his penance being incomplete following the OPC/Avici/Bay adventure).

IG«÷ll come clean G«Ű I find most articles on technology a bit dry [4] and their perspectives indefinite, leaving no long-term impression behind to enrich my life [5]. Often, I have to wait until someone with greater perspicacity [6] interprets the article so that I can gain a deeper appreciation for its subtle truths.
Not so with this piece!

Since the dawn of time [7], mankind has struggled in vain to understand what creates the spark of creative genius that can lead to a landmark invention [8], a medical miracle [9], a record-destroying athletic performance [10], a brilliant musical opus [11], or masterpiece of literature [12].
After reading and re-reading your captivating G«ˇtour de forceG«÷ on Mumford [13] and Nortel [14], I think the inspiration must be something in the water up there that is agreeable to LR [15].
Convinced of this conclusion, IG«÷m hopping on the next dogsled to Ottawa.
Keep smiling.

[1] http://www.lightreading.com/do...
[2] http://dictionary.reference.co...
[3] http://www.pulitzer.org/Entry_...
[4] http://www.fragapalooza.com/ph...
[5] http://www.capitalsearch.net/f...
[6] http://www.lightreading.com/do...
[7] http://home.discoversandiego.c...
[8] http://school.discovery.com/cl...
[9] http://www.keithrichards.com/
[10] http://www.hoophall.com/exhibi...
[11] http://www.spinaltap.com/mp3s....
[12] http://www.lightreading.com/bo...
[13] http://www.rottentomatoes.com/...
[14] http://www.nortelnetworks.com/...
[15] http://www.counterpunch.org/pi...
MrLight 12/4/2012 | 9:10:46 PM
re: On the Job – With Mumford & Pals Entertaining maybe, but a little bit more informative material would have made for a safer read. I almost fell out of my chair reading this article. Who knows how many readers actually did, and as a result were mildly injured in the fall.

I hope LR will do pieces on visits with the Lucentonian, Alcatelian, and Cisconian CTOs in the same humorous vein.

On the statement - "apparently a G«£snow backG«• is a Canadian engineer hired by U.S. startups to impress customers". Is that for real?

And in regards to " a Nortel exec last week told Light Reading that equivalent bonuses are out of the question at Nortel until the company meets its goal of a return to profitability. Makes sense to us." I hope so.

MrLight ;-]]]
testdude 12/4/2012 | 9:10:45 PM
re: On the Job – With Mumford & Pals Yes Nortel does still resell the Juniper. This was apparently a stop gap measure back in the hey day when OPC was being developed. But when it got canned, the Juniper stop gap became a long term reseller agreement.

If you go into the nortel webpage and search for juniper it comes up.

zhadum 12/4/2012 | 9:10:37 PM
re: On the Job – With Mumford & Pals Good job. Hilarious sidebars on the accompanying links (and some informative info on the engineering rings!).

Cant wait to read similar articles on Lucent (can only hope Janet Davison has some time to spare) and Cisco (ditto with Jayshree)!!

slayer666 12/4/2012 | 9:10:32 PM
re: On the Job – With Mumford & Pals nenene66

Take a pill...3500 is a metro box and has 16 lambdas...that is DWDM no ?...going to 32. At least LR still cover your industry, which is more than most press, which believes the industry has disappeared completely...MSP...thas a TLA...you must be from Nortel. Grow Up! HAHAHAHAHA
boston beans 12/4/2012 | 9:10:30 PM
re: On the Job – With Mumford & Pals Just curious...

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