ECE alumnus John Cioffi receives IEEE Alexander Graham Bell Medal

ECE News

Rick Kubetz, College of Engineering

Story Highlights

  • ECE alumnus John M. Cioffi (BSEE '78) recently received with the 2010 IEEE Alexander Graham Bell Medal.
  • He was recognized for "for pioneering discrete multitone modem technology as the founder of the global DSL industry."
  • Having retired from a career at Stanford University, Cioffi is now chairman and CEO of ASSIA, a company that builds management systems for DSL service providers.

John Cioffi (BSEE '78)
John Cioffi (BSEE '78)

ECE alumnus John M. Cioffi (BSEE ’78), considered by many in the field as the "father of DSL," was recently honored with the 2010 IEEE Alexander Graham Bell Medal "for pioneering discrete multitone modem technology as the founder of the global DSL industry."

In his remarks accepting the award, Cioffi thanked his wife, Assia, for her support, which he likened to the support Bell received from his wife.

"Alexander Graham Bell's greatest promoter was his wife," Cioffi said. "She helped finance his ideas, and Mabel Bell became known as Ma Bell. She was the force behind the Bell system." Cioffi was a product of Bell Labs, and he credited Bellcore with financing his DSL research at Stanford University, work that today is responsible for two-thirds of the world's high-speed Internet connections.

After completing his degree at Illinois, Cioffi went to work as a modem designer at Bell Laboratories. During that time, he completed his master’s and doctoral degrees at Stanford University. In 1984 and 1985, he worked for IBM doing research on disk read channels. In 1986, Cioffi joined the faculty of Stanford University, where he has focused his research on discrete multitone technology (DMT) and asymmetric digital subscriber lines. To transfer this research commercially, he founded Amati Communications Corporation in 1991 and served as its chief technology officer until Texas Instruments acquired it in 1997.

Digital subscriber line (DSL) service is a broadband digital transmission service offered on ordinary copper pair telephone lines. Versions of DSL date from the mid-1980s, but the data rates and reliability were not adequate for widespread adoption. Cross-talk and transmission variations across the frequency spectrum due to line length and other factors were central problems. In the early 1990s, Amati suggested a highly adaptive DMT approach, which became the basis for all the modern DSL standards in use today and allowed significantly higher data rates than had been believed to be possible.

The Hitachi America Professor Emeritus of Engineering at Stanford University, Cioffi has published more than 150 journal articles, presented approximately 400 conference papers, and holds numerous patents, many of which are heavily licensed. He is an IEEE Fellow and member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering, and an International Fellow of the UK’s Royal Society of Engineering. He received the ECE Distinguished Alumni Award in 1999. In 2000, he received the IEE J. J. Thomson Award, followed by the IEEE Kobayashi Award and Millennium Medal in 2001. This past spring, he was honored with the Alumni Award for Distinguished Service by the College of Engineering.

In 2003, Cioffi founded ASSIA Inc. (named after his wife), and he serves as chairman and CEO of the Redwood City, California, company, which builds management systems for DSL service providers.

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