Home to Nearly 200 R&D Organizations, Brittany Strives for Leadership in Telecommunications R&D

By Gwynne, Peter | Research-Technology Management, September/October 1996 | Go to article overview

Home to Nearly 200 R&D Organizations, Brittany Strives for Leadership in Telecommunications R&D


Gwynne, Peter, Research-Technology Management


Where do you look if you're seeking a new location for a European R&D facility devoted to telecommunications and related fields, or for a plant that relies strongly on local R&D services? Berlin, Cambridge and Nice immediately spring to mind as well-established centers of research activity. But in the past few years, another area has emerged as a strong candidate: France's Brittany region.

Until recently, the Celtic region of western France relied on agriculture and fishing to sustain its economy. But now it offers high-technology companies in general, and telecommunications firms in particular, the advantage of a critical mass of qualified scientists, engineers and technicians. More than 40 large corporations, including Alcatel, Canon, France Telecom, Matra, Mitsubishi, and Thomson have plants or laboratories in the region devoted to telecommunications, data processing or consumer electronics. So do more than 100 small and medium-sized companies, and literally dozens of subcontractors.

A key part of the Breton political leaders' strategy for attracting new high-tech facilities has been the provision of an environment of research and development. "We have always clearly affirmed the desire to support research applied to domains that correspond to Brittany's strengths," said Yvon Bourges, president of the Regional Council of Brittany. "Our region is equipped to be at the forefront of future telecom developments."

Solid Base for Telecom R&D

Evidence of that support lies in a network of public and private research institutions that dot Brittany and adjoining areas. The facilities of the Centre National d'Etudes Telecommunications (CNET) in the coastal town of Lannion-run since 1991 by France Telecom, the country's public telephone company-provide a solid base for R&D in telecommunications. It specializes in signal processing and optical networks, among other research pursuits.

Just as significant is the Centre Commun d'Etudes de Telediffusion et de Telecommunications (CCETT). Founded in 1972, CCETT has compiled a significant string of successes. They include perfection of the X.25 international standard for telecommunications, the launch of Minitel (France's pioneering intelligent phone and data system), installation of the first-ever television studio equipped for digital television production, and creation of the Eurocrypt standard for pay-per-view television services.

Other publicly financed R&D centers include IRISA (the Computer Science and Random Systems Institute), CERIUM (the European Research Center for Medical Imagery), CELAR (the Ministry of Defense's Electronic Research Center), and CCMO (the Microelectronics Center for the west of France). All of these are in Rennes, the capital of Brittany. In addition, Alcatel and Canon have major R&D centers in Lannion and Rennes, respectively

Atalante Sci-Tech Park

Another key to Brittany's reach for technology is the Rennes Atalante science and technology park, on the outskirts of Rennes. The home of CCETT, IRISA and Canon's European R&D center, "The park is very much geared to R&D," according to general manager Jacqueline Poussier. "Of the workforce in the park, 70 percent are scientists, engineers and technicians." In addition to its large R&D establishments, the park boasts a range of small companies that provide cutting-edge capabilities and services for R&D facilities. The park has a policy of encouraging technology-based start-ups. Park authorities help new firms over a period of three-to-five years by training managers and arranging both starting contracts and financing.

"The science park plays an important role in technology transfer, and this goes hand-in-hand with a genuine scientific, technological and industrial way of thinking that we seek to disseminate through Rennes as a whole," said Edmond Herve, the elected president of Rennes District. "It provides the research-training-industry symbiosis which is the raison d'etre of a science park. …

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