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Shattering the Silicon Ceiling: 2020 Marconi Prize Awarded to Wireless Innovator Dr. Andrea Goldsmith

First Woman to Win Top Communications Science Award is Honored For Her Ground-Breaking Work to Deliver High-Performing Cellular and WiFi Services

San Francisco, CA, April 30, 2020 – The Marconi Society today awarded the 2020 Marconi Prize to Dr. Andrea Goldsmith for her pioneering contributions to the theory and practice of adaptive wireless communications. She is the first woman to win the award in the 45 years that it has been given.

Goldsmith’s technical innovations that have shaped the fundamental performance of cellular and WiFi networks, combined with her leadership to radically improve diversity and inclusion in engineering, have changed both the consumer experience and the profession.

“Andrea has enabled billions of consumers around the world to enjoy fast and reliable wireless service, as well as applications such as video streaming and autonomous vehicles that require stable network performance,” said Vint Cerf, Chair of the Marconi Society and 1998 Marconi Fellow. “As the Stephen Harris Professor of Engineering at Stanford University, Andrea’s personal work and that of the many engineers who she has mentored have had a global impact on wireless networking.”

Goldsmith has been shattering silicon ceilings in engineering for decades and is an influential voice in creating an inclusive profession. As the first woman to be President of the Institute for Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) Information Theory Society, to win the IEEE Eric E. Sumner Award for outstanding contributions to communications technology and the IEEE Communications Society Armstrong Technical Achievement Award, Goldsmith has made it a priority to create opportunities for highly qualified women and to help under-represented groups compete on an equal playing field.

Goldsmith is donating her $100,000 Marconi Prize to the Marconi Society to start an endowment that will fund technology and diversity initiatives.

“I am so deeply honored and humbled to become a Marconi Fellow. The Marconi Fellows are my professional heroes and the people I have looked up to my entire career for their immense impact on the communications technologies we have today,” said Goldsmith. “The honor is particularly meaningful to me at this moment in time, when our information and communications technologies are enabling our universities, companies, and the entire social ecosystem to function in a suddenly all-online world, as well as calling attention to the critical importance of digital inclusion. The value of connectivity could not be more apparent.”

About Dr. Andrea Goldsmith

Andrea Goldsmith’s breakthrough contributions center on adaptive modulation. In the early 1990’s when Goldsmith started her work, and even today, networks are subject to fluctuations in capacity. These fluctuations can arise from a variety of factors including movement, such as walking with a phone, being inside a building or varying amounts of network usage at any given time. When data is sent at a constant speed during these fluctuations in network capacity, calls drop, screens freeze and other disruptions occur.

The adaptive modulation techniques that Goldsmith discovered let network designers match the speed at which data is sent with the speed the channel can support as network conditions and channel quality change. This research, implemented through both her entrepreneurial efforts and detailed descriptions that enabled network engineers around the world to leverage her findings, has influenced nearly every major cellular and WiFi network in the world.

“As a foundation devoted to advanced information and communications technology that drives digital inclusion, we are proud to honor Andrea and to congratulate her on her new role as the incoming Dean of Princeton University’s School of Engineering and Applied Science,” said John Cioffi, Chair of the Marconi Prize Selection Advisory Committee and 2006 Marconi Fellow. “Rarely do we see an individual that represents the perfect trifecta of leadership: true scientific innovation, practical application of that research to change the consumer experience, and a commitment to creating diverse leaders in the field. Andrea epitomizes the spirit of the Marconi Prize.”

Setting the Bar for Wireless Performance

Goldsmith, the daughter of a mechanical engineer and a cartoonist for the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, entered college with a broad set of interests. She started engineering school at the University of California at Berkeley with the philosophy that it would be easier to transfer out of engineering than to transfer in.

Faced with a highly competitive environment and an undercurrent of subtle bias about whether women were really cut out for math and science, Goldsmith was on the brink of leaving engineering when she met an inspiring female teaching assistant who became a much-needed role model.

Goldsmith graduated in 1986 when the first cellular networks were just being built. She worked at a small defense communications startup in Silicon Valley where many of her colleagues had advanced degrees. She realized that in order to solve the kinds of hard communications problems that she was passionate about, she would need to deepen her knowledge through graduate school.

Goldsmith’s break-out work happened during her PhD thesis at UC Berkeley when she became intrigued by understanding the fundamental limits of wireless networks and how to design them to perform close to these theoretical limits. This began the integration of theory and practice that became the hallmark of Goldsmith’s innovations.

Goldsmith was the first to determine the maximum data rate, or Shannon capacity, of time-varying wireless channels at a time when wireless system design was focused on fixed-rate voice communication. Goldsmith then created her first adaptive modulation and coding technique, called adaptive M-ary Quadrature Amplitude Modulation (MQAM), to achieve network performance close to the theoretical limit. All WiFi and cellular networks today use adaptive MQAM to deliver reliable performance at the maximum possible speed that the network can support.

One of the most prolific researchers and practitioners in the field, Goldsmith has developed extensive breakthroughs to enhance the speed and reliability of wireless networks. Her innovations in adaptive and multiuser multiple-input and multiple-output (MIMO) channel performance limits and practical algorithms helped to shape the MIMO techniques currently adopted in the 5G cellular and 6G Wi-Fi standards. She provides the foundation for Internet of Things applications, such as smart cities and cloud-enabled health and wellness, through her work on novel design principles for low-power ad hoc wireless networks.

That work has never been more important, as the network becomes our lifeline for work, shopping, socializing and entertainment.

Goldsmith co-founded two successful companies based on her research. Under her leadership as Chief Technology Officer, Quantenna Communications was the first to enable multiple HDTV video streams within a home, enabling consumers around the world to enjoy multiple shows and events at once. She later co-founded Plume to deliver high-performance home Wi-Fi mesh networks that support intelligent home applications such as parental controls and both physical and cyber security.

Goldsmith holds 29 patents and literally wrote the book in her field, authoring Wireless Communications, the foundational textbook used in engineering schools around the world.

Changing the Face of Engineering

Just as she does for wireless network performance, Goldsmith sets the bar high for the engineering profession as a whole.

“The challenges engineers undertake and the solutions they develop are most impactful when they incorporate a broad set of perspectives. Data shows that women and other under-represented groups in engineering do not have the same opportunities and recognition as others in industry and academia. This hurts our ability to recruit and retain diverse engineers, and hence to identify and solve the most important problems,” says Goldsmith.

She has held a number of positions with the IEEE focused on diversity and inclusion, most recently as Chair of the organization’s Ad Hoc Committee on Diversity, Inclusion and Ethics. Through her leadership and influence, the IEEE adopted its first-ever diversity statement and awarded five women with medals and technical field awards, the IEEE’s most important honors.

“Andrea is part of a small group that completely changed the face of the IEEE Communications and Information Theory Societies through technical excellence coupled with an inclusive attitude that allowed others more junior to see role models and flourish in their own right,” said Christopher Rose, IEEE Fellow, Professor of Engineering and Associate Dean of the Faculty at Brown University’s School of Engineering. “I can honestly say that I would not feel as much a part of either community were it not for Andrea’s bold leadership.”

About the Marconi Prize

The Marconi Prize is the flagship award of the Marconi Society, given annually to innovators who have made significant contributions to increasing digital inclusivity through the advancement of information and communications technology. Marconi Prize recipients are recommended by an independent selection committee and approved by the Marconi Society Board, which is chaired by Vint Cerf and includes communications pioneers such as Federico Faggin, Sir David Payne and Andrea Goldsmith.

About the Marconi Society

The Marconi Society envisions a world in which all people can create opportunity through the benefits of connectivity. The foundation celebrates, inspires and connects individuals building tomorrow’s technologies in service of a digitally inclusive world.