David Boggs, co-inventor of Ethernet, dies at 71

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After his parents’ divorce, David Boggs grew up in Washington with his mother, Jane (McCallum) Boggs, and older brother, Walter. All three lived in her grandmother’s house near American University, where her mother went to work as an administrator, eventually overseeing admissions to the university’s law school.

After saving up for a radio operator’s license, David began building amateur radios, spending his nights chatting with other operators across the country. His brother remembered that they had both strung antennas from a second-story bedroom to the roof above the garage.

“At the time, those wires seemed so long,” said Walter Boggs, who still lives in the house. “Now that looks 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 master’s and doctorate degrees, also in electrical engineering. Early in his career at Stanford, he attended a presentation by Alan Kay, one of PARC’s leading thinkers. He introduced himself to Mr. Kay, which led to an internship in the lab and later a full-time research position.

At PARC, as Mr. Metcalfe and Mr. Boggs pieced together a blueprint for Ethernet technology, borrowing ideas from a University of Hawaii wireless network called ALOHAnet. This work corresponded to one of Mr. Boggs’ oldest interests: radio.

By sending tiny packets of information between computers and other devices, including printers, Ethernet could potentially work both wired and wirelessly. In the 1980s, it became the standard protocol for wired PC networks. In the late 90s, it served as the basis for Wi-Fi, which would invade homes and offices for the next two decades.

However it was used, the power of Ethernet was that it assumed things were bad. Even if some packets were lost – as they inevitably would be – the network could continue to operate.

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