Telecom giant NTT Group is offering record pay to hire top scientists as it looks to match some of the basic research prowess of global powerhouses including Alphabet Inc. and Apple Inc.

The former Japanese telephone monopoly has set annual salaries of as much as $1 million (¥108.45 million) for researchers at its labs in Palo Alto, California, said Kazuhiro Gomi, president of the company's research arm. That's more than the company pays its chief executive officer and 41-year veteran Jun Sawada, and a rare step for a traditional Japanese company like NTT.

The increased investment in basic science comes as NTT is regrouping its businesses to focus more on cloud computing services and data centers amid a dimming outlook for profit from its mainstay mobile phone carrier. Having star scientists on the lab's payroll, backed by a ¥25 billion five-year budget, helps the group draw better technology workers and partners as it wages a global war for the top talent it needs to expand globally, Gomi said.