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We always try to solve the most extreme version of the problem - Thierry Klein from Nokia Bell Labs

02. 05. 2023 Tuesday / By: Robert Denes / Generic / Exact time: BST / Print this page

T hey created the transistor, they are working on 6G, and now they are enabling a mobile network on the moon. Nokia Bell Labs has quite a few innovations and more to come. How exactly have they stayed at the forefront of innovation for nearly a hundred years?

For some, the possibility of sending messages on the moon seems like something from the future. However, there is a high probability that the first mobile network on the moon will be available this year as a result of the ongoing cooperation between Nokia Bell Labs and NASA. Interest in planetary exploration is growing, and effective communications will be a critical element of any future lunar mission. Astronauts not only need to communicate with each other, they also need mobile voice and data capabilities for a variety of applications, including high-definition video streaming and remote monitoring of sensors and instruments.

The project began in 2018 when Nokia Bell Labs scientists realized that network technology conditions on the Moon are very similar to those on Earth. The company already had tools suitable for these conditions. "We built portable, compact, and lightweight network devices to address public safety and emergency situations, and we understood that with further development, they could be used to bring cellular networks to the moon," explains Thierry E. Klein, president of Bell Labs Solutions.

Although Bell Labs researchers had the necessary technology for these networks, they knew they could not accomplish the mission alone. They needed workers who could take the technology to the moon and land it there. After a few years of initial development, NASA asked Nokia Bell Labs to pitch its ideas, and now, in 2023, the lunar network is almost ready for takeoff.

In just five years, what seemed difficult and unfeasible to some has become a realistic business venture. According to Klein, this project was driven by the question that the research lab constantly asks when developing new research ideas: What is the most extreme version of this problem, and how can we solve it? “If we can solve the most extreme problem, then we can solve other versions of the problem,”he explains.

Focusing on the most challenging obstacles encourages researchers, engineers and designers to pursue ambitious projects and creative thinking. "People who work for us are curious about how things work or why they don't work. They recognize problems that they themselves face or that others struggle with, and then they try to solve those problems,” says Klein.

To stay at the forefront of innovation, the laboratory must focus not only on the current goal, but also on the next one. This forward-thinking approach led to many breakthroughs, from the invention of transistor and laser technology to the development of the UNIX operating system and the C programming language. The work of Bell Labs researchers has received several Nobel and Turing prizes.

Founded in the 1920s, Nokia Bell Labs has been able to stay innovative for nearly a century - a challenge. Many companies are creating their own innovation spaces, centers and research centers, but struggle to get a return on investment.

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