For Nokia Bell Labs, move to HELIX is all about connectivity

Ability to better collaborate with academia, tech ecosystem in state-of-art center in vibrant urban setting spurs move from Murray Hill to New Brunswick

It’s easy to talk about all the incredible advances in research and technology that Nokia Bell Labs hopes to achieve at its new location in New Brunswick. That was obvious throughout Monday’s unveiling media event at the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center.

It’s not 5G or 6G technology — but 7G or 8G. It’s new networks and new devices with seemingly infinite possibilities. Quantum technology … photonic processing … drones.

It’s artificial intelligence done smartly and ethically — where it augments human capabilities, leaving to robots and machines what robots and machines are good at and unleashing what humans are destined to create, Nokia Bell Labs officials said.

All of this will take place sometime in 2028, when Nokia Bell Labs moves from its longtime location in Murray Hill to solely occupy H2, the second of three buildings at the HELIX, a center of innovation being created by the New Brunswick Development Corp.

Why the company has decided to do that in New Brunswick is just as important — and just as telling for the state and its future as a center for innovation.

Thierry E. Klein, president of Nokia Bell Labs Solutions Research and one of the co-leads of the facility, said the ability to easily collaborate with partners — whether they are from a university, a startup or established brands — made the HELIX the perfect spot.

“It’s really important that we’re deeply engaged with a local ecosystem, whether it’s small or large companies, industrial partners, customers, startups, entrepreneurs and venture builders,” he said.

“This is really critical for us, as we’re exploring new technologies like AI, new market and industrial sectors, like enterprise industrial automation, and new business models.”

The reasons for this, he said, are simple.

“Nobody has a monopoly on innovation,” he said. “We really believe that we need to collaborate, we need to co-invent, we need to co-create to solve some of the hardest technical and business challenges of our generation.

“But, also, it’s really important for us to transition the research from our labs into real-world environments. We need to apply the technologies that we invent in realistic environments, work with others, because that’s the only way (to succeed).

“We experiment, we test, we verify, we improve and we learn — and we make sure that we have solutions that really address the challenges of our times.”

The new building will play a huge part in all of that.

Imagine being the most famous research & development lab in the world — and then getting a chance to re-create yourself for a modern world. Nokia Bells Labs will do just that.

The approximately 250-foot-high building will have just 10 floors and 350,000 square feet — meaning many floors will have the height of two or three floors, necessary for many of the new technologies the researchers will be working on. Try testing a drone in a normal office building.

And try attracting the next generation of scientists to the outdated suburban facility that Bell Labs had become.

Klein said the employees at the packed town hall meeting Monday at Bell Labs welcomed the news with energy and excitement. He said internal studies showed an employee heat map that already was better positioned to work in New Brunswick than Murray Hill.

“Just being in this new facility, and also this vibrant location, community, I think will be a great attractor,” he said.

Peter Vetter, president of Nokia Bell Labs Core Research and the other co-lead of the property, said that vibrancy will be felt inside and outside of the research lab.

Having been raised in Europe, he talked of the benefits that come close interactions that only are found in urban areas.

The company had been discussing a new location for some time. Oddly, Klein said the pandemic — which obviously pulled everyone apart — made the company realize how much they wanted and needed to be together with each other and others. How much they needed connectivity.

“The last few years, I’ve heard a lot of conversations that said, ‘We love talking to Bell Labs, we love working with you, we haven’t seen you for two years, it’s so great to connect back to you,’” he said.

Klein said the ultimate goal is to do what Bell Labs always has been famous for: Making those connections have impact around the globe.

“We are very excited about the announcement today,” he said. “It is about a new building. It is about state-of-the-art research facilities. But, it’s also about New Jersey. It is also about recommitting to the ecosystem of partners in New Jersey, so that we solve these problems together.

“We will accelerate innovation, from the research labs to incubation to commercialization. And we are committed to driving innovation right here in New Jersey for New Jersey, but then scaling it to the world.”

Vetter said the right place to do all that is where the company has been for generations.

“Bell Labs has been in the state of New Jersey for 80 years,” he said. “And, during that period, Bell Labs have created and invented some of the most important innovations that have really shaped humanity.

“We want to continue that mission. And we want to give our researchers a state-of-the-art world-class infrastructure to inspire them and to enable them to create the future.”