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October 27, 1999
Netravali Chosen President of Bell Labs
Radhika R Shankar
Yet another product of the Indian Institute of Technology is in the news this week. A few days ago Gururaj 'Desh' Deshpande, 48, became an overnight billionaire when Sycamore, the 18-month-old company co-founded by him, went public and its share price exploded fivefold making it worth $ 14 billion, and setting a record for the highest market value achieved by an Internet company in its first day of trading.
Now Arun Netravali, a scientist who pioneered digital video research, will head Bell Laboratories, an organization with a $ 4 billion budget and which has generated over 30,000 inventions since its founding in 1925.
It has also played a pivotal role in inventing and advancing key communications technologies for most of the 20th century, including communications satellites, cellular telephony, digital networking, fiber-optic communications, and modems.
Netravali, who holds 60 patents, has taught at some of America's best institutions including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Columbia University. His work on high-definition television at Lucent Technologies, earned him an Emmy Award last year.
Netravali, 53, was named the president of Bell Labs on Tuesday. Bell Labs is the research and development arm for Lucent Technologies.
Headquartered in Murray Hill, New Jersey, Lucent designs, builds and delivers a wide range of public and private networks, communications systems and software, data networking systems, business telephone systems and microelectronic components.
Netravali is the ninth president of Bell Labs. With 25,000 employees in 20 countries, Bell Labs is the largest R&D organization in the world dedicated to communications.
Bell Labs scientists and engineers have won 6 Nobel prizes and 16 National Medals of Science and Technology.
"As the innovation engine behind Lucent Technologies, Bell Labs is empowering today's communications revolution -- a revolution that is replacing old paradigms with new technologies,'' said Lucent's Chairman, Rich McGinn.
"Arun has the technical depth and vision to make sure Bell Labs stays in the vanguard of that revolution,'' he said.
McGinn recalled how Netravali brought to the fore major technology breakthroughs. These include a major software breakthrough -- the first software-based network switch for both data and voice networks; a major broadband breakthrough -- the world's first long-distance transmission of a terabit (a trillion bits) of information per second over a single strand of optical fiber; and a major semiconductor breakthrough -- the world's smallest working transistor.
"These are the sort of research breakthroughs that will help Lucent maintain its leadership position in the communications industry in the coming millennium,'' said McGinn.
Netravali, who headed Lucent's research and development for many years, has been with Bell Labs for 27 years.
"The prospect of leading one of the world's premier R&D organizations is both electrifying and a bit daunting, particularly at a time when the demand for new communications technology is at its zenith," Netravali said in a statement.
"Bell Labs is a powerhouse of innovation. The collective brain power here is awe-inspiring," he said, adding, "It will be an honor to support the scientists and engineers here, many of whom are recognized gurus in their fields."
Netravali joined Bell Laboratories in 1972 as a member of the technical staff. In 1978 he became head of the Visual Communications Research Department.
As the executive vice-president of research at Lucent Technologies for the past four years, he is widely recognized for his technology management expertise.
One of his significant contributions was a text book, Digital Pictures - Representation and Compression, which he co-authored with Bell Labs colleague Barry G Haskell.
As vice president of research at Bell Labs, he succeeded Nobel Laureate Arno Penzias, 62, who has headed research at Bell Labs since 1981.
Bell Labs President Dan Stanzione said, "Digital video currently ranks as the most important endeavor in today's multimedia revolution, and there is no more pre-eminent and respected scientist in the field than Arun Netravali.
"His book on digital pictures is today's bible on video compression."
Three years ago, he shared with Barry Haskell Japan's distinguished C&C award which recognizes individuals who are pioneers in the fields of computers and communications technologies.
Netravali was chosen for his pioneering contributions in digital image and video compression technology.
After he received a B Tech (Honors) degree from IIT in 1967, Netravali got MS and PhD degrees in electrical engineering from Rice University, Houston, Texas, in 1969 and 1970 respectively. He worked with NASA for two years before joining Bell Labs.
The many awards Netravali has won includes the Alexander Graham Bell Medal of IEEE (1991), the Engineer of the Year Award from the Association of Engineers from India (1992), the Thomas A Edison Patent Award (1996), and Japan's Computers and Communications Prize (1997).
Netravali is married to Chitra Netravali, a pediatrician, and has two children, Ilka and Ravi.
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