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Pioneer of modem technology receives 1996 Marconi Fellowship Award

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Zurich, Switzerland, 6 June 1996—To recognize and stimulate creativity in communications, the Marconi International Fellowship this week announced Gottfried Ungerboeck, an IBM Research scientist in Zurich, as the recipient of the 1996 International Marconi Award for his invention of "trellis-coded modulation"—the core technology used in modems around the world. Regarded as the "Nobel Prize" of communications, the Marconi Fellowship Award, which includes a cash award of 100,000 US dollars, is given once a year for unmatched innovation in communications and impact on humanity.

"We are honored and pleased that one of our scientists has been chosen to receive this prestigious award," said James C. McGroddy, IBM senior vice president and advisor to the chairman. "Without Dr. Ungerboeck's invention, telephone modems would likely be limited to transmitting data over telephone lines at considerably lower rates than the 28,800 bits per second achieved today."

Mrs. Gioia Marconi Braga, daughter of the late Guglielmo Marconi and Marconi Chairperson, said, "Dr. Ungerboeck's achievements have been instrumental in creating the digital world in which millions of us travel every day. The telephone line modem is, and will continue to provide for the foreseeable future, an important link to the electronic world." The 100,000 US dollar award was presented to Dr. Ungerboeck by Her Royal Highness Princess Alexandra at a Gala event in London, marking 100 years since the founding of the Marconi Company by Guglielmo Marconi in London in 1897.

Setting the standard

In 1975, Ungerboeck began developing the technique that would improve the transmission of digital data over telephone lines. The problem with effectively sending digital signals (ones and zeros) over telephone lines was that they were analogue. The solution created by Ungerboeck—"trellis-coded modulation"—creates an optimum way to encode the ones and zeros in analogue waveforms to allow the maximum amount of data to be transmitted over an analogue telephone line. His method minimized the effects of small noise-induced distortions in the shape of a signal, which can result in a one being mistaken for a zero or vice versa when the signal is demodulated—greatly distorting messages on the receiving end.

Ungerboeck's "trellis coded modulation" technique has become a standard for converting digital signals transmitted by computers over the telephone network, which uses analogue signals, and is recommended by the International Telegraph and Telephone Committee. The same technology is beginning to be used also for transmission over many other communications links, like satellite channels and transmission between microwave towers.

"Research is an adventure of the mind", said Ungerboeck. "My adventure started soon after graduating from university. While serving in the army, I read about optimum control of dynamic systems, like a motor. Later, at IBM Research, similarities came to my mind between optimum control and recognizing information sent over noisy communication channels with minimum probability of error. Information had to be sent in a form which makes different information sequences better distinguishable in the presence of signal disturbances. At some time, the idea of trellis-coded modulation as a method to achieve this was born. I am greatly indebted to IBM for providing me with a stimulating research environment throughout the years, and I feel deeply honored by receiving this prestigious award from the Marconi Fellowship Foundation. Thanks to all who have made this possible. My adventure will continue."

About the Marconi International Fellowship

The Marconi International Fellowship was created through the initiative of Mrs. Gioia Marconi Braga on the 100th anniversary of her father's birth. The aim of the fellowship is to honour those who have made significant contributions to the advancement of communications through discoveries, inventions and innovations in the physical or information sciences or engineering.

Guglielmo Marconi is regarded as one of the greatest and most original inventors of the twentieth century and of all time. His inventions led to the development of the wireless telegraph, the radio, and a variety of essential and, today, ubiquitous advances in telecommunications. He founded Marconi's Wireless Telegraph Company Limited in London in 1897, and won a Nobel Prize for physics in 1909.

Press contact

Nicole Strachowski
Media Relations
IBM Research - Zurich
Tel +41 44 724 84 45

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