Advanced telecommunications: strong signals for Hainaut
The quality of its advanced telecommunications services for industry has earned Multitel, the applied research centre resulting from the Polytechnic Faculty of Mons, an international reputation with promising economic consequences.
In a province such as Hainaut, which was severely affected by the decline in its traditional industries, the existence of high quality university resources is a precious asset in the revitalisation of its economic fabric. It was with this in mind that in 1994, the Department of electromagnetism and telecommunications and the Department of circuit theory and signal processing at the Polytechnic Faculty of Mons (FPMs) received support from the Walloon Region and the European Structural Funds for a series of projects which resulted in the creation of a centre of excellence that works for companies: Multitel.
Established in the Initialis Science Park in Mons, at the end of 1999 Multitel acquired the status of Independent Research Centre in the form of a not-for-profit association (asbl) which ultimately aims to be self-funding. In 2000, the telecommunications and teledetection laboratory at the Catholic University of Louvain contributed to the range of Multitel’s expertise in relation to advanced telecommunications, in the field of image analysis.
Advanced services for industry, creation of “spin-offs”
This expertise covers signal and natural language processing (voice synthesis and recognition, etc.), applied photonics (optical amplification, fibre lasers, etc.), image processing and videosurveillance and IT network management. Developed downstream from university research, the industrial applications are in turn provided through an extensive range of services – from the most technical to the provision of training – exclusively dedicated to the specific requirements of all industries, whatever their size or perspectives, local SMEs or multinational groups, which make use of Multitel.
Beyond service provision, Multitel also establishes spin-off companies jointly with the FPMs which result directly from their laboratories. These independent companies remain in close cooperation with the Centre in order to develop high value-added products.
Its constantly developing expertise, its independence in relation to suppliers, the availability of its multi-disciplinary team of over 80 engineers, technicians and managers have led many companies - 350 industrial contracts signed to date – to choose Multitel as a partner in their development. Examples of the largest of these include Alstom, Alcatel, L'Oréal and Thales.
Multitel and the FMPs have created 5 spin-off companies to date, which employ 85 people in total: Babel Technologies (voice technologies) which merged with Infovox (Sweden) and Elan (France) to form the Acapela Group; IT-Optics (freeware and telephony over the Internet); ACIC (intelligent videosurveillance); Smartwear S.A. (intelligent sensors and fibre); and Polymédis (medical IT equipment).
Multitel has also been able to make the most of its experience acquired with the help of Structural Funds to take part in 19 European research projects under the 6th EU research and Development Framework Programme (RDFP) and 7 projects in the Eureka network. Apart from its solid international reputation, this is reflected by significant technological advances in fields such as the man/machine interface for transport and logistics, sensors for biomedicine and traceability and its applications in production chains: all of these are promising sectors for the Walloon economy.
One of these projects, “Wireless camera and audio-visual seamless networking” (WCAM), undertaken through a consortium piloted by Thales Communication, involved the development of an audiovisual system over an integrated end-to-end wireless network ensuring the convergence of technological standards. Completed on 30th March 2006, its results were positively evaluated by the European Commission and will give rise to major industrial developments.