Wireless Network Pioneer Dies at 88


Norman Abramson has died on the 1st of December at his home in San Francisco. His death was caused by skin cancer that had metastasized in his lungs. Abramson was responsible for spearheading the evolution of wireless computer networks and is considered the father of modern wireless networks. He led a group of graduate students and faculty in creating ALOHAnet, a smaller, wireless version of the ARPAnet. To this day, some of their technology is still being used by smartphones, satellites, and home Wi-Fi networks.

Abramson was a physics student of Harvard and then received his master’s degree from UCLA before enrolling in a doctorate in electrical engineering at Stanford. He taught for a while at Stanford and UC Berkeley before he accepted a teaching position at the University of Hawaii where he taught from 1966 to 1994. It was there that ALOHAnet was born.

ALOHAnet was created to be a system that would connect colleges and universities to each other to share messages. It worked by allowing digital devices to deliver and accept data packets through a shared radio channel. If a data packet wasn’t received, they would simply send it again. This system connected the Hawaiian Islands and eventually became the world’s first wireless packet data network. The name pays homage to the Hawaiian salutation for greeting or parting. ALOHAnet was coined by Professor Abramson and his collaborator Franklin Kuo, who was a former Bell Labs scientist.

Abramson and his team attribute ALOHAnet’s success to the fact that they were open about sharing it to other people. They did not put a patent on it and it was published in scientific papers for others to see. The creation of ALOHAnet paved the way for the creation of the Ethernet.

Aside from all the wonderful work he has done, Professor Abramson also loved hitting the waves. He was known to surf every day at 4 p.m. and wear Hawaiian shirts all the time. He returned to San Francisco in 1995 after his retirement and stayed there until his final days.