From France Telecom's Manhattan office, surgeons performed a successful gall bladder removal 4,000 miles away in Strasbourg, France, using France Telecom's high-speed fiber optic system, and a robot.

In the September 7 telesurgery, dubbed Operation Lindbergh, surgeons manipulated the robot through the gall bladder removal from a 68-year-old patient. Docs watched their own movements via video on images transmitted on a transatlantic fiber optic system.

"Any sort of time lag was imperceptible to the human brain and human eye," says FT spokeswoman Elizabeth Mayeri.

To provide the speed, France Telecom called on its Equant subsidiary, which focuses on the broadband industry, she says. The telecom also needed to guarantee 10 Mbps and continuous transmission delays of less than 200 milliseconds, on both inbound and outbound links.

In the decision, FT had to consider the surgeon's actions, via the robot and data transmission; VoIP service; the endoscopic camera and video monitor; a videoconference links to coordinate between the two rooms; and continuous control of data between PCs in the two rooms.

"It's never been done at this distance before," Mayeri says.

FT pulled together its resources: Its Large Business unit coordinated Operation Lindbergh and provided the MultiLAN in France; Equant managed the international segment using its ATM transmission technology; FT's Networks unit pitched in the physical infrastructure for the network, with fiber optic links; FT's Transpac unit handled technical coordination for network operation and surveillance; and its R&D engineers cut the time delay for coding and decoding the video signal to 150 milliseconds. The engineers also deployed and operated service access equipment, and oversaw service quality and reliability by inserting test cells in the ATM frame, FT says.

Using Equant's high-speed services, FT linked the equipment — including video cameras, robotic system, video conference equipment and voice over a transatlantic, high-bandwidth fiber optic service at 10 Mbps. The system allowed Equant and FT to deliver broadcast-quality video, secure ATM data transmission, IP telephony, videoconferencing and LAN interconnection.

Computer Motion contributed the Zeus robotic surgical system.

Doctors had a surprising number of volunteers for the telesurgery debut. Three patients, all needing the same surgery, vied for a shot at being the first. The selected patient opted for the process to further medicine, and to help her children and grandchildren.

FT waited until now to announce the surgery because, "We wanted to make sure the patient recovered," Mayeri says. FT was to hold a press conference in New York Sept. 13, but cancelled after the terrorist attacks. The attacks did not affect its systems, however, and FT says its "network is up and running."