Bell Labs Chief Slams 'Toy' Networks

Bell Labs president Marcus Weldon has condemned Silicon Valley firms for "trivializing" networks with their plans to provide connectivity with drones or balloons.

Talking at the Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) Technology Symposium in New Jersey last week, Weldon said companies such as Facebook and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) "don't value the network as it should be valued. They are talking about networks as if they're trivial to build and based on balloons and drones.

"That's just ridiculous. That's what you build when you don't know how to build networks. You build toy networks."

A drone-based network was "an unstable, non-permanent network, and to say that's how you build networks of the future is just patronizing to people."

Facebook and Google have announced plans to deliver connectivity via solar-powered drones. Google's Project Loon is testing high-altitude balloons, while SpaceX's Elon Musk is exploring the possibility of a fleet of micro-satellites. (See Comms in Space! Musk Plans Micro-Satellites, Google Leases NASA's Moffett Field, Flyin' Facebook: Now Zuckerberg Eyes Drones?, Now Google Planning Drones-to-Go and Broadband: It's All Hot Air for Google.)

In fact, Google's Project Loon just got a helping hand from Telstra, which will provide basestations that will connect with 20 of the web giant's balloons during a trial in western Queensland.

Weldon is dismissive, though. "Networks get built through real innovation and an awful lot of clever architecting and optimization," all of which is needed because of "how difficult it is to provide mobility in the networks so you never drop a call," Weldon said.

"I think they treat it like a road that has potholes, and it's much more than that."

Want to know more about drone developments? Check out our dedicated drones content channel here on Light Reading.

Weldon said there wasn't enough spectrum to support high-speed satellite broadband, citing the HughesNet service offering 3Mbit/s broadband across continental US.

"The reason why you build terrestrial networks is we're aiming for 100 Mbit/s or more per subscriber. There simply isn't enough spectrum in the satellite band to do that. The reason why you use wires up to the end is because you need basically the full spectrum of a piece of optical fiber to get all the bandwidth down to the end."

Weldon, who is also the Alcatel-Lucent CTO, added: "To use radio up in space… you'd need terahertz of spectrum that doesn't exist. Look at how precious that spectrum is for video relay. To think you can serve a global array of devices and people each wanting 100 Mbit/s from satellite infrastructure trivializes networks."

— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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Atlantis-dude 4/20/2015 | 1:43:44 PM
Reliability v/s cost reliability of the network is still unproven and should be a major concern for any govt or service provider that are associated with it.

Cost may be lower but unless there are multiple sources one can never be sure.
wanlord 11/23/2014 | 8:51:08 PM
Re: Naturally obscure Exactly. Look at what FB is doing with Open Compute and Data Center technology. They understand it better than most and are doing something about it. What is his solution besides spending zillions on infrastructure?
brooks7 11/20/2014 | 10:55:19 AM
Re: Valley service "Right, just like Google is pressuring the Tier 1 guys to do meaningful fiber deployments nationwide. Come on.

You mean AT&T.  Since Verizon has FiOS.


karpodiem 11/20/2014 | 9:17:08 AM
Re: Valley service Right, just like Google is pressuring the Tier 1 guys to do meaningful fiber deployments nationwide. Come on.

True, broadband speeds in the Google Fiber areas have increased for all providers, but if you use the slope of the line Google presently is taking with wiring homes, this would take over 100 years.
mendyk 11/20/2014 | 8:30:25 AM
Re: Naturally obscure Zuckerberg an uber-geek? That will make the folks in the lab smile.
BinuA 11/20/2014 | 5:29:46 AM
Re: Naturally obscure Exactly.

Public never care who is building the roads, ports etc.. they respect good car manufacters.. 

Now, its like  bmw is planning to build road to remote villege.

Its great if they are serious in their aim, Not just creating hype.
R Clark 11/20/2014 | 1:39:02 AM
Naturally obscure

Up to a point I'm quite sympathetic to this cry of 'we don't get no respect' but I think it's really a function of the complexity of networks. 

The only time people think about the network is when they can't get a signal. A new app that allows people to share gossip is inherently more interesting than a new wave form, and so the discourse about tech and telecom is biased toward to the big branded web companies and cool-sounding apps.

I find it hard to believe that uber-geeks like Page and Zuckerberg don't respect what network guys do, just because they don't talk about it.  It's good they're tipping money into networking, no matter how crazy the idea. They'll hire good people and even if they don't get balloons or drones flying in a viable way they will solve some problems.


Steve Saunders 11/19/2014 | 10:44:26 PM
Re: Valley service I'm wondering if Mr Weldon still uses a type writer. 
DHagar 11/19/2014 | 8:51:18 PM
Re: Valley service mendyk, I agree with you.  I believe he is underestimating the "exploring" that they are doing in developing new capacity and alternatives to the next frontier.  It almost sounds as if that would be the kind of comment made years ago by a Kodak executive.
DanJones 11/19/2014 | 4:19:35 PM
Re: Valley service Don't discount the possibility that Google is trying to pressure operators to deploy more terrestrial networks too, that certainly seems to one of the motivating factors behind Google Fiber in the US.
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