David Boggs, Co-Inventor of Ethernet, Dies at 71

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

After saving up for a radio operator’s license, David began building ham radios, spending his nights chatting with other operators across the country. His brother remembered the two of them stringing antennas from a second-floor bedroom to the roof over the garage.

“Back then, those wires seemed so long,” said Walter Boggs, who still lives in the house.” Now it 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 received both a master’s and a Ph.D., also in electrical engineering. Early in his Stanford career, he saw a presentation from Alan Kay, one of the key thinkers at PARC. He introduced himself to Mr. Kay, which led to an internship at 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 wireless network at the University of Hawaii called ALOHAnet. This work dovetailed with one of Mr. Boggs’s oldest interests: radio.

Sending tiny packets of information between computers and other devices, including printers, Ethernet could potentially work both with wires and without. In the 1980s, it became the standard protocol for wireline PC networks. In the late ’90s, it served as the basis for Wi-Fi, which would pervade homes and offices over the next two decades.

However it was used, the power of Ethernet was that it assumed things would go wrong. Even if some packets were lost — as they inevitably would be — the network could keep going.

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