David Boggs, Co-Inventor of Ethernet, Dies at 71

After his parents divorced, David Boggs grew up in Washington with his mother, Jane (McCallum) Boggs, and his older brother, Walter. Three of them lived at his grandmother’s house, near the American University, where his mother had gone to work as an administrator, eventually overseeing his admission to the university’s law school.

After saving for a radio operator’s license, David began making ham radios, spending his nights chatting with other operators across the country. Her brother remembered that the two of them had installed antennas from the second floor bedroom to the garage ceiling.

“Back then, those wires seemed too long,” said Walter Boggs, who still lives in the house. “Now that sounds like a very short distance.”

David Boggs earned his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at Princeton University before starting at Stanford, where he eventually earned both a master’s and a PhD in electrical engineering. Early in his Stanford career, he saw a presentation from Alan Kay, one of PARC’s leading thinkers. He introduced himself to Shri. That led to an internship in the lab and later a full-time research position.

At PARC, as Mr. Metcalfe and Mr. Boggs created a blueprint for Ethernet technology by borrowing ideas from a wireless network at the University of Hawaii called Elohanet. This work is associated with one of Shri. Boggs’ oldest interests: radio.

By sending small packets of information between computers and other devices, including printers, Ethernet could potentially work both with and without wires. In the 1980s, it became the standard protocol for wireline PC networks. In the late ’90s, it served as the basis for Wi-Fi, which would be extended to homes and offices over the next two decades.

Although it was used, the power of Ethernet was that it assumed things would go wrong. Even if some packets are lost – as it should be – the network can continue.

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