Wireless pioneer Norman Abramson dies at 88

Norman Abramson, the leader of a group of scientists and engineers pioneering the development of wireless computer networks, died at his San Francisco home on December 1. He was 88 years old.

The cause was skin cancer that had spread to his lungs, said his son, Mark.

Professor Abramson’s project at University of Hawaii Originally designed to use wireless channels to send data to schools in remote Hawaiian Islands. However, the solutions he and his group devised in the late 1960s and early 1970s have proven to be widely applicable. Some of their technologies are still used in smartphones, satellites and home Wi-Fi networks today.

The technology they created has enabled many digital devices to send and receive data over their shared wireless channels. This was a straightforward approach that did not require complicated planning of when each data packet was sent. If the data packet was not received, it was simply retransmitted. This approach was a departure from the telecommunications practices of the day, but it worked.

Vint Cerf, Google computer scientist and co-author of Technical Standards for Connecting Computer Networks on the Internet with Robert Kahn, said:

Hawaii’s wireless network, which went live in 1971, is called ALOHAnet and honors Hawaii with greetings and farewells. It is a small, wireless version of the famous ARPAnet, the Internet’s predecessor, which allows university researchers to share networks and send messages over landlines. ARPAnet was led by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency of the Department of Defense and also funded ALOHAnet.

Mark Weber, Internet historian at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif., Said: “The early wireless work in Hawaii is very underrated.

Professor Abramson is called the father of wireless networks. But it was a shared fatherhood. The project involved graduate students and several faculty members, especially Frank Kuo, a former Bell Labs scientist who came to the University of Hawaii in 1966, and Professor Abramson arrived the same year.

His deepest expertise was in communication theory, the subject of his doctorate. Stanford University Treaty. The basic design idea behind ALOHAnet was his own. In a 2018 oral history interview at the Computer History Museum, Professor Kuo recalled, “We worked pretty well because Norm was a theory and I was an implementer.”

ALOHAnet owes a lot to surfing. Professor Abramson was presenting a treatise at a conference in Tokyo at a time when flights from San Francisco to Tokyo were due to stop in the middle of Honolulu. Growing up in Boston, Professor Abramson never went to Hawaii and decided to spend a few days in Hawaii on the way home.

He rented a surfboard. “I went out there and learned to surf, and I said, boy, I could handle some of it,” he recalls in 2013. Oral history interview With the Computer History Museum.

In less than a year, he and his family moved to Hawaii after the University of Hawaii offered him a lifelong professorship. “My dad was really into his job, but he was surfing almost every day,” said Mark Abramson.

ALOHAnet technology has become so widely used in part because Professor Abramson and his team are free to share it and welcome other scientists to Hawaii.

“We weren’t patented. ALOHA was published in a scientific treatise, ”Prof. Abramson said in The History of Dictation, adding: I was so busy surfing that I couldn’t care less. “

Norman Manuel Abramson was born April 1, 1932 in Boston to Edward and Esther Abramson. Her father was a commercial photographer and her mother was a housewife. Norman and his sister Harriet grew up in the Dochester neighborhood, where most Jewish immigrants lived, like their parents at the time. Her father was Lithuanian and her mother Ukrainian.

Norman was educated at Boston Public Schools, Elite Boston Latin School and English High School, and excels in math and science. He went to Harvard University, where he attended classes taught by Howard aiken, mathematician and computer pioneer. It was a computer class long before the field of computer science existed, and he enjoyed his first taste of programming.

Prof. Abramson majored in physics at Harvard University, received a master’s degree in physics from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1958, and a doctorate in electrical engineering from Stanford University. Hawaii. He retired from the University of Hawaii in 1994.

In addition to his son Mark, he is survived by his wife Joan Abramson. Her sister, Harriet Shannon. And three grandchildren. Her daughter, Carin Wethington, died in 2014.

Some of the data networking technologies developed by Professor Abramson and his team in Hawaii have proven to be invaluable not only in wireless communications, but also in wired networks. One of the heirs to his work was Robert Metcalfe, a young computer scientist who worked at Xerox PARC, a Silicon Valley lab that pioneered innovation in personal computing in 1973.

Metcalfe was working on how to allow personal computers to share data over a wired office network. He reads a 1970 article by Professor Abramson, explaining how ALOHAnet sends and receives data over networks.

“Nome kindly invited me to study ALOHAnet with him at the University of Hawaii,” Metcalfe recalls in an email.

Xerox PARC’s Metcalfe and colleagues used ALOHAnet technology to refine the creation of an Ethernet office network. Metcalfe later founded 3Com, an Ethernet company that flourished with the growth of the personal computer industry.

“Thanks, Nome,” Metcalfe concludes with an email. “Aloha! “

Wireless pioneer Norman Abramson dies at 88

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