Bell Labs president: Europe needs to catch up on 4G to derive economic benefit (video)

19 Jun 2013

Bell Labs president Gee Rittenhouse

The president of Bell Labs, the communications innovation powerhouse arm of Alcatel-Lucent, has said that Europe’s fragmented mobile industry is the prime reason why Europe is behind the rest of the world when it comes to 4G. Gee Rittenhouse urged Europe to catch up if it wants to see citizens and businesses derive the socio-economic benefits of next-generation technologies.

As president of Bell Labs, Rittenhouse’s responsibilities include leading both Bell Labs Research – one of the world’s leading research institutions – as well as overseeing Alcatel-Lucent’s intellectual property business.

In his previous role, he was chief operating officer of Alcatel-Lucent’s €4.5bn Software, Services, and Solutions Group. Prior to this he held several leadership roles in Bell Labs, including head of the Wireless Research Laboratory, vice-president of the Bell Labs Technology Integration Group, and, following the Alcatel-Lucent merger, vice-president of Bell Labs Research.

At the European Union’s Digital Agenda Assembly, Rittenhouse said: “I think the connection between broadband access and GDP growth is clear and has been verified across the board. The biggest challenge we confront is wireless. Europe is just beginning to deploy 4G and the rest of the world is already deploying it aggressively. Europe still has another step to take to match that, bring in those kind of data rates, and then leverage the apps and the Digital Agenda on top of that.”

Rittenhouse said there are many different aspects as to why Europe is behind but he believes it is primarily to do with the market being so fragmented. Compared with the US where there are four operators and a single telecoms regulatory basis, Europe has 100 different operators and as many regulators as there are countries.

“It really comes down to basic economics and being able to deploy systems in many, many different locations without a lot of sharing of the radio access network (RAN) and other aspects. It is a very expensive proposition, unlike the US, where they can deploy nationwide on a single type of network.”

Rittenhouse was the moving force behind GreenTouch, a non-profit pre-competitive research consortium focused on dramatic increases in network energy efficiency, and served as the organisation’s first chairman. 

Rittenhouse appeared on the list of the 2011 and 2012 Global Telecom Business Power 100 most influential executives in the telecoms industry. He is a senior member of IEEE and in 2007, he was named an IEEE Communications Society Distinguished Lecturer and he won the IEEE Communication Quality and Reliability (CQR) Chairman’s Award. 

Benefits of 4G

Digital Agenda Assembly 2013 – Bell Labs’ Gee Rittenhouse on Europe’s Digital Agenda and wireless communications

He believes the innovations coming out of Bell Labs could have socio-economic benefits for a world dependent on communications for commerce and creating a level economic playing field.

“It was just a few years ago out of the labs here in Ireland that we invented a new type of base station called the Cube, which was very light and compact, cheap lightweight and low power, and that is at the heart of many of our metro cell products.

“It puts a different price point into the market and you can start to see the technology with LTE overlay and underlay networks being massively deployed in a lot of different places. A key aspect is to use this tech as a platform.

“Providing this connectivity itself only goes part of the way but once you start to open up that network for others to develop on top of it, not just as an IP connection but having the attributes of controlling quality and bandwidth, you start seeing the other applications come out of it and we are seeing this happening in other parts of the world already.”

Regarding the mobile industry’s resolve to connect the next 1bn people, Rittenhouse said many of the applications in boosting local economies in emerging countries are starting to emerge.

“The emerging markets of micropayments and apps to make the economy and the culture more efficient – they are only starting to emerge and the benefits only starting to emerge. In the developed world, the network is becoming a video distribution network, optimising for large real-time file sharing.

“In tomorrow’s world, it is going to be all about the internet of things, remote healthcare and making cities smart, helping with the greening of cities, all these things have their own place and will leverage the network in different ways,” Rittenhouse said.

More on the Digital Agenda Assembly

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years