Just call us Wireless Valley. That’s a new name for Berkeley coined by some high-tech newcomers from Sweden who make telephones, do research and don’t have anything to do with home furnishings.
Ericsson Inc., the Stockholm-based communications supplier of wireless telephones has opened a research center in the newly renovated Francis K. Shattuck Building at the corner of Shattuck Avenue and Addison Street.
The Swedish company located here in developer Avi Nevo’s stylish remake, mainly because of its five-year-old connection with the computer science department of UC Berkeley and this community’s proximity to Silicon Valley.
With more than 100,000 employees in 140 countries, Ericsson has staffed its Berkeley Wireless Research Center with 60 employees and plans to add 20 more in the near future. Half of them will be researchers, the other half, product developers.
A primary focus of the Berkeley Wireless Center is its Mobile Applications Initiative that is linked to the growth of the mobile Internet market.
Ericsson telephones and other small hand-held wireless units can access the Internet for games, stock tips and weather reports, and users can browse the Net on them.
“Our research activity in the building is working together with UC Berkeley which is very prominent in the wireless area,” said Michael Eslamian, Director of Mobile Applications Initiative-Americas.
“The knowledge of Internet is very strong in Silicon Valley, but the knowledge in wireless is not as strong there.”
The companies that develop Internet applications in the Silicon Valley are the world leaders, said Eslamian. “Ericsson is the leader of wireless technology. Together we can build the future,” he said.
Representatives from scores of companies from Silicon Valley and other parts of the Bay Area came to Berkeley Thursday evening to view Ericsson’s research facility and to demonstrate the products “that we together are bringing about,” said Eslamian.
An Ericsson-made video captured the mood of the young employees in blue Ericsson shirts who moved about with the guests.
“The company is all about hip, young, cutting edge,” said the voice on the video. “We think wireless is the next revolution. It’s not about technology. It’s about lifestyle. It’s about information whenever want it.”
Interviewed on video from his office in Stockholm, Hakan Eriksson, the company’s head of research who attended graduate school at Stanford, said mobile Internet research is about creating a platform for applications on the horizon.
He said the company was involved in research to build secure identity and other protections into the applications as well.
The renovated building, with about 40,000 square feet of space on three floors, is a showcase for the wireless lifestyle. There are no telephone wires, there is no tangle of wires leading into computer terminals and plugs on the walls. Ericsson has four laboratories in its new center and its research will be available to companies such as electronic game companies who need to know the latest wireless technology in order to design new games for it.
Gunnar Nilsson, Director of Ericsson Research, said the center is running a full-scale non-commercial cellular network that “can do everything.”
The wireless center includes a GPRS (general packet radio service) emulation test environment, a live GPRS network, private developer studios, highly skilled personnel and a Mobile Internet Studio. He said six UC Berkeley students are interning at the center.
Professor Randy Katz of the university’s Computer Science Department has worked with Ericsson for several years. He said the earliest reputation that Berkeley has with Internet technology dates back to the late 1970s when the UC Berkeley Computer Science Department did a project called the Berkeley Software Distribution of Unix, which still has applications today.
When Ericsson approached the Computer Science Department, researchers there were working “to make different kinds of wireless technologies disappear – to completely hide the differences in those technologies.” Katz said researchers developed a software architecture to hide the differences and Ericsson heard about it as they were moving into the wireless Internet area and they respected the work at Berkeley.
“They came to us and offered us the opportunity to collaborate with them, and move into the next level of research results in that area,” he said.