Bell Labs plans Israeli branch of its ‘idea factory’

The researchers who invented everything from transistors to television get some help from the Start-Up Nation

Danny Raz, Director of the new Israel branch of Bell Labs (Photo credit: Courtesy)
Danny Raz, Director of the new Israel branch of Bell Labs (Photo credit: Courtesy)

A branch of Bell Labs is set to open this summer in the Tel Aviv area, said Michel Combes, CEO of Alcatel-Lucent, in a special announcement at the MIXiii 2014 high-tech conference on Tuesday.

Bell Labs has been synonymous with technology and innovation for nearly a century. Its arrival in Israel is a clear confirmation of the confidence Alcatel-Lucent has in Israeli technology, Combes added.

Bell Labs, often called “America’s idea factory,” has a history of innovation and invention. Originally the engineering department of AT&T, then known as “the phone company,” Bell Labs researchers developed many of the building blocks of modern electronics and computers. In 1927, a Bell team transmitted the first television images. In 1937, they transmitted the first stereo signals via radio. A Bell scientist invented the photovoltaic cell in the early 1940. In 1947, Bell scientists created the transistor, an invention that made modern computing possible. Later inventions included TDMA and CDMA digital cellular telephone technology, the compiled C programming language and the first single-chip 32-bit microprocessor.

Alcatel-Lucent has been operating in Israel since 1985, when it was known as Alcatel. The Israeli branch of the company, located in the Tel Aviv suburb of Kfar Sava, employs more than 250 people, and is the global research center for AL’s carrier cloud solution, called Cloudband.

Bell Labs remained a part of AT&T until 1996, when the company spun it off into a new company named Lucent Technologies, which, in 2006, merged with communications company Alcatel, creating Alcatel-Lucent. Worldwide, the company has over 70,000 employees, about 50,000 of them in research and development. The company operates Bell Labs facilities in about a dozen countries.

Israeli researchers will now have an opportunity to make their mark in Bell Labs history, Combes said. The new Israel office “will produce fantastic results for our customers and for communications globally, and will contribute tremendously to Alcatel-Lucent playing a shaping role in the industry,” he said at the event.

The fact that AL has headquartered its cloud work in Israel, considering the importance of cloud in modern computing, is a real vote of confidence for the Israeli team, said Marcus Weldon, president of Bell Labs and CTO of Alcatel-Lucent, who also spoke at the event. “Bell Labs is once again looking at solving the big real-world problems that will change the way we communicate, collaborate and connect with each other and with our ‘things.’ We know that great new discoveries and innovations in ‘cloud networking’ will emerge from our new Tel Aviv office,” Weldon said.

Combes did not specify how many people would be working at the Israel branch of Bell Labs, but company sources in Israel said that about 20 people, mostly with academic scientific backgrounds, would be hired to start. The new Bell Labs team will be based in Alcatel-Lucent’s cloud facility in Kfar Sava, the company said.

The Israeli team will be led by Israeli computer scientist Danny Raz. Raz, a Bell Labs alum, is a professor in the Department of Computer Science at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. He has been published widely in the area of network, system and cloud resource management and has a strong working relationship with a number of leading global companies in Israel including receiving the IBM Faculty Award and consulting with Google.

“This is a unique opportunity for me, as a scientist, to be part of the re-shaping of the telecommunication realm and to have an impact over the lives of many people throughout the globe,” Raz said at the event. “I realize this opportunity is, of course, a great challenge, as ’success’ will require the team to come up with breakthrough research and innovations that address the main problems in cloud and networking. However, I believe that the combination of the Bell Labs’ traditional model and spirit, together with the unique strengths of the Israeli academia and entrepreneurship, is a unique combination, and thus the new Bell Labs Tel Aviv office will have a great impact both for Alcatel-Lucent as well as for the Israeli tech and the global tech community.”

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