Arlyn S. Powell, Jr.
A recent study by Battelle and R&D Magazine is predicting that research and development investment will increase by only 1.7% in the U.S. this year. According to estimates made by the National Science Foundation, the investment will increase from $171 billion in 1995 to $174 billion in 1996.
To designers, installers, managers and users of telecommunications networks, this modest R&D increase may not appear to be noteworthy, but it affects everyone. The results of high-technology R&D trickle down from research laboratories to cabling and component manufacturers, whose products are installed by cabling contractors, managed by network managers and used by everyone.
If such statements seem too vague, consider these research results: Several groups of scientists attending this year`s Optical Fiber Communications conference reported that they had broken the terabit barrier, transmitting signals at more than one terabit per second (that is more than 1000 gigabits per second) for significant distances. In a short time, the techniques used to achieve these high data rates will be reflected in better-performing optical fiber, optical-fiber amplifiers and multiplexers. The public network will profit first from these developments, but past experience shows that private networks--and even our desktops--will eventually benefit.
However, the benefits of R&D will not flow into the telecommunications industry unless basic research continues to be funded at a significant level. Already, some negative results of the R&D spending slump of the early 1990s are becoming apparent. For example, according to the Battelle/R&D study, private industry will increasingly look for opportunities to outsource internal R&D functions, more U.S. industry R&D will be performed offshore, and governmental budget-cutting will reduce federal R&D support and curtail activities at federal research laboratories.
Few could argue with the conclusion reached by Jules J. Duga, a Battelle research scientist and the principal author of the Battelle/R&D forecast. He says, "Despite the fact that industry and the federal government are doing battle with their respective budgets, and changes are being forced by major trends in the global economy, the commitment to today`s research is critical to tomorrow`s economic strength."
R&D spending is the wellspring that drives technological change in the telecommunications industry. For this reason, R&D funding deserves the support of each of us, whether we are scientists, engineers, businesspeople, technicians, managers or just ordinary folk interested in the progress of the industry.