An interview with a renowned scientist and Internet pioneer

Published Jun 21, 2014, 7:15 pm IST
Updated Mar 31, 2019, 11:55 pm IST
Dr John Cioffi is widely acknowledged as the Father of Digital Subscriber Line (DSL)

Mumabi: He is widely acknowledged to be the "Father" of DSL or Digital Subscriber Line - the family of technologies that provide Internet access by sending digital data over the wires of an ordinary telephone network. The author of dozens of patents in the mid 1980s, that made Internet a reality for millions of people worldwide, Dr John Cioffi is now Emeritus Professor at Stanford University and heads a corporation - Adaptive Spectrum and Signal Alignment, Inc., better known as ASSIA -- which provides technology solutions to global broadband service companies.

As telecom providers work with fibre optics and wireless, to connect the world, they also have to rapple with a challenge: what to do with millions of miles of copper cabling, a throwback to a pre-Internet Age. This is particularly so in India where state providers BSNL has a massive network of legacy landlines.


You can use all this existing copper and still deliver what would today seem unbelievable data speeds, says Dr Cioffi. Passing through Delhi, last week, on his way back from delivering a keynote at the CommunicAsia conference in Singapore, he explained the concept to me, in an exclusive tele-conversation.

"I am often asked if it is possible to deliver broadband access speeds of a gigabit per second to a billion people before the end of this decade. My answer is, that this is entirely possible with only a modest level of investment, and with only incremental upgrades of the existing infrastructure."


 This is how it works: With new avatars of DSL technology called Vectored DSL, legacy networks can mate with the latest wireless WiFi networks. And individual WiFi networks each, say, delivering a hundred megabits per second, can be made to work together to add their speeds... till one achieved a gigabit per second.

Helping operators in developing markets to make best use of their existing infrastructure and still achieve world-class Internet backbones - that is Dr Cioffi's mission today. Looks like the Father of DSL is fathering a whole new way of frugal engineering that Indians can appreciate: don't waste what you have; build on it, to play catch-up with the rest of the world.


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