Setting a World Standard: David Boggs the Co-father of the Ethernet
David Boggs, co-inventor of the Ethernet, helped propel the world of connectivity to the future. Learn about his life, his work with Robert Metcalfe, and how the Ethernet standard shook up the world.
David Boggs is known as the co-father of Ethernet. He was an engineering pioneer who helped create today’s internet standard and local area network access.
In this article, we celebrate the life and legacy of Boggs, who passed recently on February 19th, 2022.
Early Career and Invention of Ethernet
David R. Boggs, born June 17th, 1950, graduated from Princeton University with a BSE degree in electrical engineering in 1972.
Upon graduation, he went on to work at Xerox PARC in Palo Alto, California, as a part of the research staff.
At Xerox, he met Robert (Bob) Metcalfe, who was working on debugging an interface message processor interface for the PARC systems group.
With past experience as a radio engineer, Boggs offered to help Metcalfe with his project, as he recognized similarities between Metcalfe’s approach and radio broadcasting technologies.
Bob Metcalfe (left) and David Boggs (right). Image used courtesy of David Boggs and Computer History
Together, Boggs and Metcalfe were tasked to connect PARC’s Xerox Alto to the world’s first laser printer, the Scanned Laser Output Terminal.
Drawing on previous experience, Metcalfe decided to use a coaxial cable for their project. In this choice, he used the term ether to describe the “omnipresent, completely passive medium for the propagation of electromagnetic waves,” aka data packets, that they were creating.
In 1973, they laid coaxial cables along all PARC’s corridors to attach every one of the computers on the network. The connection booted up on November 11th, 1973, with a network speed of 3 megabits per second (Mbps), and thus they created Ethernet.
Ethernet and Local Access Networking
At first, Ethernet stayed in-house at PARC until 1976 when Boggs and Metcalfe published "Ethernet: Distributed Packet-Switching for Local Computer Networks." Since its adoption by global users, we have seen Ethernet's impact on modern technology.
Despite today's proliferation of Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi-connected devices, a far greater percentage of people still rely on Ethernet for internet access.
In general, Ethernet offers a faster connection with greater reliability and security than Wi-Fi, making it the most widely used local area networking (LAN) technology in the world.
Additionally, various market surveys show that hundreds of millions of repeater ports, Ethernet network interface cards (NICs), and switching hub ports have been sold to date. In total, Ethernet outsells all other LAN technologies by a substantial margin. Next year, Ethernet will reach its 50th birthday.
Since 1973, Ethernet has been constantly reinvented and continues to evolve new capabilities that make it the most popular network technology globally.
Drawing of the original Ethernet system. Image used courtesy of O’Reilly
The first Ethernet standard, published in 1980, was 10 Mbps. That is still common today, but faster speeds will reach up to 10,000 Mbps.
Each new standard does not, however, antiquate the older ones. An Ethernet controller will run at the speed of the slowest connected device on the network, a useful feature when mixing old and new technology.
Overall, David Boggs' contribution to creating Ethernet revolutionized today's world that relies on the ubiquitous use of the internet and connection.
Remembering a Legend
Beyond his contributions to Ethernet, Boggs' career is decorated with many other important contributions.
While at Xerox, Boggs received his master's degree (1973) and Ph.D. (1982) in electrical engineering from Stanford University.
He wrote his dissertation on "Internet Broadcasting," a concept that helped Steve Deering pioneer the development of Internet Protocol (IP) multicasting.
For all of these contributions to the industry, David Boggs received the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Computer Society technical achievement award in 1988 and is recognized as a fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery.
As an undisputed pioneer in the industry, Boggs' impact on the world will be felt for decades to come.