Susanna Contini Hennink
PARIS -- The approaching privatization of France Télécom has prompted an ambitious reorganization of the country's telecommunications R&D efforts, temporarily putting the prestigious optoelectronics laboratory at Bagneux in limbo. The laboratory, which is part of the state-owned Centre National d'Études des Télécommunications (CNET), researches fiber optic communications and material science, and develops advanced technologies.
As the research arm of France Télécom, CNET has served not only the state-owned telecom company, but the entire French telecom industry as well. With a staff of 4600, it is the largest telecom research center in Europe. But the impending privatization of France Télécom means that CNET's priorities will change. The service provider is not in the business of manufacturing components, analysts say, and therefore probably will not want to keep either its microelectronics laboratory at Grenoble or the Bagneux lab.
Many of these changes are a result of a government-funded study on the state of the French telecommunications industry. On May 14, the former French government headed by Alain Juppe adopted a proposal to create the National Network for Telecommunications to reorganize public telecom research, support industrial research and sustain France Télécom's R&D activities.
The proposal was based on an advisory report, co-authored by Gilles Kahn, scientific director of the national computing agency. Kahn summarizes its underlying message: "Let's put money into universities and other organizations interested in doing research in the telecom area. It's important to continue doing public research [in telecoms], but we should spread the funds among several companies."
An R&D network
Under the proposal, the government will inject more than Ffr 1 billion over five years into the proposed R&D network with the caveat that it supports joint efforts between the public and private sectors.
Meanwhile, the Bagneux laboratory has been given three objectives: to create the National Center for Scientific Research laboratory; to create a public interest group designed to bring about 50 of the present researchers into the new lab; and to create an economic interest group that will form an association of 70 to 80 researchers with a commercial partner. It is reported that Alcatel Optronics is a likely candidate for the public/private partnership.