AlcaLu's Bell Labs Opens Video R&D Lab in UK

Cambridge is home to a new video-centric R&D lab formed by Alcatel-Lucent's Bell Labs.

Michelle Donegan

July 17, 2014

4 Min Read
AlcaLu's Bell Labs Opens Video R&D Lab in UK

Alcatel-Lucent's Bell Labs has opened a new research and development center in Cambridge, UK, that is dedicated to developing new technologies for delivering real-time video and cloud-based content. (See Bell Labs Opens UK Video Research Facility.)

The video-focused R&D center is the first site Bell Labs has had in the UK, and today's news follows the launch of a cloud research facility in Tel Aviv in May. The new facilities add to the existing six locations that Bell Labs has worldwide, which shows how Alcatel-Lucent is expanding its international R&D presence and tapping into technical expertise in new markets. (See Bell Labs Toasts Big Bang Discovery With Prize, Israeli Office.)

Bell Labs plans to open a third new R&D facility by the end of the year, but the company did not say where. But it won't be in Europe or Asia-Pacific, according to Marcus Weldon, Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) CTO and president of Bell Labs (so we'll have to keep guessing.)

Bell Labs chose the UK for its video research facility because it has the "hottest video ecosystem in the world," according to Weldon, who is a Brit. "It's the most vibrant video market in terms of delivering video services and it also has strong content plays and innovative content packages."

But also, and perhaps more importantly, Cambridge is the home of Alcatel-Lucent's IP Video business, which started when the telecom vendor acquired content delivery network (CDN) specialist Velocix in 2009. The new research facility will be co-located with the IP Video business, which delivers CDN capabilities to network operators and acts as a systems integrator for IPTV deployments. (See Telenor Picks AlcaLu to Optimize Mobile and AlcaLu Buys CDN Specialist Velocix.)

The new R&D center will be led by Bo Olofsson, who previously was director of product research at Sky .

So what technologies will the R&D center work on?

According to Paul Larbey, head of the IP Video business, the goal is to solve a basic problem that is evident in the video viewing behaviour of young children --- they do not understand why they cannot get the same content and same viewing experience on any device they choose.

So the aim is to develop the technologies that will be needed for what Alcatel-Lucent believes will be "video-centric" networks in the future. That means being able to source diverse content types generated from various devices or machines (think CCTV cameras, for example), process or store it in the cloud and then deliver it across any network, whether wired or wireless, to any device.

"A lot more intelligence needs to go into the network, and [traditional] set-top boxes become less relevant," said Larbey.

That covers a lot of technology ground, including network analytics, optimization for content delivery that is network-aware, and new encoding methods.

For example, in a trial with an unidentified German mobile operator, Alcatel-Lucent is using predictive analysis tools in the handset to know when a user has a good enough quality network available to view content. With that information, the content can be adapted or buffered, so that it is sent only when the network quality is right.

In another research trial with a video provider in North America, the company is working on how to use network information to optimize the video traffic.

These are the kinds of technologies that will be developed and evolved at the new research facility in Cambridge. And, like all of Bell Labs' centers, there will be a cross-disciplinary, cross-technology approach. The new center is likely to tap into the wireless video work going on at Bells Labs in Stuttgart, Germany, for example. Also, many of the first of the 10 researchers in the Cambridge facility will come from other Bell Labs sites, a strategy that facilitates cross-domain knowledge-sharing.

According to Weldon, the research in Cambridge will be about creating an entirely new paradigm for sourcing and delivering real-time video content. The idea, he explained, is to source video from people and things into the cloud, where it is processed, combined, packaged, stored, rendered as channels, and delivered.

How they achieve that, though, is to be discovered. "We never limit researchers as to what they can work on," he said.

— Michelle Donegan, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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About the Author(s)

Michelle Donegan

Michelle Donegan is an independent technology writer who has covered the communications industry for the last 20 years on both sides of the Pond. Her career began in Chicago in 1993 when Telephony magazine launched an international title, aptly named Global Telephony. Since then, she has upped sticks (as they say) to the UK and has written for various publications including Communications Week International, Total Telecom and, most recently, Light Reading.  

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