Bell Labs' Weldon on Infinite Bandwidth

At a time when Bell Labs celebrates its past Nobel Laureates with a new garden at its Murray Hill, N.J., facility, the organization's head is looking to the future.

Specifically, Bell Labs president Marcus Weldon is looking forward to applying Bell Labs' innovation methods to industry challenges -- specifically, massive bandwidth needed to support mobile apps and devices, including the Internet of Things.

In a rapid-fire interview with Light Reading, Weldon, who is also Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU)'s CTO, also explains why having 700 people is enough to get the innovation the industry needs, and how those people need to work together. He also details how Bell Labs has been reorganized so that each researcher chooses to work on one of 13 "Future X" projects, of which mobile bandwidth is just one.

Bell Labs President Marcus Weldon
Weldon spoke earlier via video with Light Reading Editor-in-Chief Ray Le Maistre and you can see that  here.
Weldon spoke earlier via video with Light Reading Editor-in-Chief Ray Le Maistre and you can see that here.

On framing the problem of getting enough bandwidth: "The seemingly infinite capacity is our goal, it's our charter at Bell Labs. Stated that way, it is a typical Bell Labs problem. If you just said, 'I want 10 Gigabits per second' or one gigabit per second, that's a problem anyone could state and everyone could attempt to solve. The right framing of the problem is often key -- when you frame the problem correctly, you build the right solution."

On solving the problem of delivering seemingly infinite capacity: "To get to seemingly infinite bandwidth capacity, yes, you'd use more radio capacity, more spectrum, but you'd use all radios at once, and you would optimize how flows flow to each radio depending on the needs of the flow. If it's a very high capacity flow, you'd use a high capacity interface, if it was a highly mobile flow, you'd use an air interface that had very good coverage as well as capacity, if it was a local flow you'd use a local air interface etc. It would have the idea of guiding the flows depending on their characteristics, which isn't just bandwidth and latency.

"And of you course you'd try to do that in the most economical way and do as much as possible in the cloud and leave as little processing as possible in the outside network as the outside network is going to get closer and closer to the end user with small nodes and small cells."

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On what could be involved in solving that problem: "I think there are three or four dimensions: One is I need to go to smaller and smaller nodes and those nodes will be disconnected from each other, because they'll be everywhere. I need to connect those nodes together so I need a new backhaul architecture that doesn't require me to run fiber everywhere and can be adapted. So we are looking at massive MIMO or beam-forming for backhaul, because I can really put my node down wherever it is, my small cell, and it will self-align to the backhaul. So the backhaul is through a massive antenna array that is forming beams to wherever these small cells get deployed. They don't have to be situated at specific points, essentially the network auto configures the backhaul.

"You don't want to it to be micro-antenna links to each one because those are expensive and they have to be 80 feet off the ground. You'd rather have it be using low frequencies and doing backhaul over low frequencies and then doing beam-forming to direct the beams just to the small cells and that's the most efficient way to use the spectrum.

"And then I want to do millimeter waves on access layers so I get access to multiple gigabits of spectrum up in the millimeter wave frequencies, such as 60GHz or 30GHz, around there because there is lots of spectrum up there. So I want to find ways to use that spectrum that has very distinct properties -- it doesn't go through walls, gets absorbed by air. That's why it doesn't get used very often. So I have to build an architecture that works with that and my low-frequency spectrum.

"And then we need a new air interface. If an app is just sending a small amount of data every hour, then that looks like a machine in terms of traffic properties and we need to build an air interface for that. And then we need a control plane that makes all of that work together -- that is sort of the big problem.

"So: beam forming, millimeter wave, a new air interface for short burst communications and a control plane that guides the traffic over all of those resources optimally."

Next page: Prioritizing the challenges to infinite bandwidth

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DHagar 4/13/2015 | 1:46:44 PM
Re: Bell Labs' Infinite Bandwidth kqy4m, I am with you on that.  What I see that Bell Labs is doing is moving beyond the "gee whizzy" functional development to assemble "usable technology" that is both commercially viable and affordable and that truly serves a need.  I am interpreting that his heavy man/brain power is a potential investment in moving beyond design to fully implementable technologies.  If they do that, they will meet your test.
kq4ym 4/11/2015 | 9:23:47 PM
Re: Bell Labs' Infinite Bandwidth The idea of infinite bandwidth seems gee whizzy. But put enough nodes and radios out there I guess it can be done, but the trick is to make it affordable for the benefits realized of courwe.  It's interesting how Bell says "each researcher chooses to work on one of 13 "Future X" projects," and given 700 of those folks that's a lot of projects to manage and whether there's going to be some sort of coordination among that huge group will be interesting.
DHagar 4/9/2015 | 4:21:30 PM
Re: Bell Labs' Infinite Bandwidth Carol, outstanding interview!

I fully agree that the real key to unlocking the doors to existing problems lies in the understanding and reframing, as he so effectively points out.

Harvard Busines Review provided a good description contrast between complicated and complex systems.  "Complicated systems have many moving parts, but they operate in patterned ways.  Complex systems have patterned ways, but the interactions, or variables are continually changing."  Bell Labs appears to truly be addressing the complex systems.
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