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Lucent's former chief scientist starts a venture fund

Posted: 15 Mar 2004 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:venture? telecom? outsourcing? internet? web?

Netravali: Businesses will have a variety of custom services written by countless programs on the open network.

The former president of Bell Labs and chief scientist at Lucent Technologies is forming a $250 million venture capital fund to invest in startups that will keep one foot in the United States and the other in India. Arun Netravali, who is something of an icon in India, said that the fund will pick up minority equity positions in U.S.-based telecom and other technology startups that outsource development to India to keep costs down.

During a recent visit to India, Netravali said some of the venture funds had already been collected. However, he declined to say what the average size of investments will be or to name other partners in the fund.

Another Indian technology star, Vinod Dham, a former Intel engineer who is known as the father of the Pentium processor, set up a similar fund in 2002. Dham's New Path Ventures has already raised $55 million and is in the process of augmenting that amount by another $100 million to $150 million. New Path has formed three U.S.-Indian ventures, all of which do most of their engineering out of Indian cities.

The big U.S. corporations are already outsourcing or have offshore centers in India, but Netravali's focus is on startups and smaller companies. He said his goal was to make startups realize the value of outsourcing as a way of reducing costs. The fund is looking at closing by the year's end, Netravali said.

Technology predictions

Offering his vision of the future of networking beyond 2005 in an address to top Indian executives, Netravali said the Internet would undergo a vast transformation into a broadband "high-IQ" net--a meganetwork that would unite the entire world in a communications "skin" marked by constant connectivity and huge bandwidth. By 2010, the profusion of interconnected communication devices will result in enough "infrachatter" so as to outweigh all intrahuman communication, he said.

The high-IQ net will have active Websites and software agents to extract desired information by text, voice, images and video, Netravali said. A growing number of network appliances will collaborate with the network, offering services that enable people to interact as naturally as they do face to face, using all the human senses. This new network will be a mediator that brings information of all kinds together, he added.

Netravali predicted that consumers and businesses will have a large variety of individualized custom services written by countless programs on the mega, open network. Communications networks will be tailored to suit individual needs, he said, urging service providers and wireless-equipment makers to ensure the systems they make are available at the lowest possible cost. Netravali added that communication network would be tailor-made to suit the needs of individuals.

Netravali called the CDMA wireless standard a clear winner over the GSM standard, from a purely technological perspective. But GSM subscribers are helped by that standard's larger global footprint, he said.

In the future, however, mobile phones will be able to identify the technology being used in each network and tune themselves to receive the signals, Netravali said. Customers would not have to bother with figuring out whether theirs was a GSM or a CDMA phone. Such handsets would be like today's computers, which run different applications to suit varying customer needs.

Netravali declined to predict when such phones will be available in large numbers, however.

Encompassing achievements

Netravali is a graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai (formerly Bombay), and earned master's and doctorate degrees from Rice University in Houston, all in electrical engineering. He also holds honorary doctorates from IIT and Osmania University in India, and Ecole Politechnique Federale in Switzerland. In 2001, he received the annual U.S. National Medal of Technology for his achievements at Bell Labs.

Netravali is regarded as a pioneer in the field of digital technology and led the research and development of Bell Labs' HDTV effort. He was cited for his "pioneering contributions that transformed TV from analog to digital, enabling numerous integrated circuits, systems and services in broadcast TV, CATV, DBS, HDTV and multimedia over the Internet."

Netravali is a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. For his scientific achievements, he has received numerous awards, including the Alexander Graham Bell Medal (1991), the Computers & Communications Prize (1997, NEC, Japan), the Frederik Philips Award from the IEEE (2000), the National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM) Medal in India (2000), and the Kilby Medal from the IEEE (2001).

He holds more than 70 patents in the areas of computer networks, human interfaces to machines, picture processing and digital television. In 2001, he also received from the Indian government the Padma Bhushan Award, the nation's third highest civilian honor.

- K.C. Krishnadas

EE Times

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