The Beijing branch of Agilent Technologies' central research group is on the verge of creating new optical communications tools to improve the design and building of next-generation telecommunications networks. Agilent senior vice-president and chief technology officer Tom Saponas said research at Agilent Labs China was on track to help the company form a new line of business. Agilent, spun off by Hewlett-Packard in 1999, develops test and measurement systems. Mr Saponas said the company's Chinese research program focused on advanced modelling and analysis technologies to help communications equipment makers and service providers plan and build future high-speed communications networks. He gave no timetable for the commercial release of the new tools. Agilent Labs China was established about 15 months ago to develop new technologies such as photonic integrated circuits and wavelength-division multiplexing for high-speed networks. William Shreve, wireless and communications systems management director at Agilent Labs, said: 'New infrastructure, with all its inherent network complexity, requires large investments. 'That is why it is important to efficiently model how infrastructure will be used.' Mr Shreve said that by measuring potential impairments, carriers could plan for solutions ahead of time. Agilent's decision to form a research group in Beijing was influenced by the availability of optical scientists and engineers. There are more than 15 universities in the mainland with graduate programmes in optics. 'It is Agilent Labs' goal to secure the best talent worldwide, and we will continue to staff the research programme in China with individuals who have broad technical expertise that will allow them to move into new projects in the future,' Mr Saponas said. With headquarters in Palo Alto, Agilent Labs also operates in Japan, Britain and Colorado, and generates about 100 patents a year. According to Steven Newton, manager of Agilent Labs' optical communications and measurements department, collaborations across the firm's labs are common, compared with other research organisations that support only one or a few businesses. 'We have researchers who recognise and help exploit the problem-solving opportunities that can be created through syntheses of seemingly unrelated technologies,' he said. Mr Saponas said the China market was key to the future of Agilent's business. 'We are so pleased at how quickly our lab in Beijing has come up to speed. Clearly, we plan to expand our China operations,' he said. Large companies, including communications equipment manufacturers, Internet service providers and biopharmaceutical companies, depend on Agilent's more than 20,000 test, measurement and monitoring devices, semiconductor products and chemical analysis tools. The communications and electronics industries are Agilent's largest markets, accounting for more than 80 per cent of revenue last year. The company reported net revenue of about US$8.4 billion in the financial year to October 31.