The Association of Computing Machinery (ACM) has awarded the 2022 ACM A.M. Turing Award to Bob Metcalfe, recognizing his contributions to Ethernet’s invention, standardization, and commercialization.

This award, often called the “Nobel Prize of Computing,” is named after Alan M. Turing, the British mathematician who laid the foundations of computing. It carries a $1 million prize with financial support from Google.

Metcalfe, an Emeritus Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin and a research affiliate in computational engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, invented Ethernet in 1973 while working as a computer scientist at the Palo Alto Research Center. He drew on ideas from ARPAnet, particularly packet switching, and an idea from the University of Hawaii: Aloha Network, a method for sharing a communication channel.

With the help of David Boggs, a co-inventor of Ethernet, Metcalfe built a 100-node PARC Ethernet, which was replicated within Xerox to create a corporate internet. Metcalfe left Xerox and founded 3Com in 1979, raising venture capital in 1981. The company shipped its first big product, Ethernet for the IBM personal computer, in 1982 and went public in 1984.

Today, Ethernet is the main conduit of wired network communications worldwide, with data rates ranging from 10 Mbps to 400 Gbps, and emerging technologies with 800 Gbps and 1.6 Tbps. Ethernet has become an enormous market, with revenue from Ethernet switches alone exceeding $30 billion in 2021, according to the International Data Corporation.

Metcalfe’s original design ideas have enabled the bandwidth of Ethernet to grow dramatically, making it possible for every computer to be networked. Ethernet remains the staple data communication mode, particularly when prioritizing security and reliability.

Bob Metcalfe’s 1973 sketch of his original “Ethernet” vision. Photo courtesy of Bob Metcalfe and the Palo Alto Research Center Inc., a Xerox Company. 

Metcalfe has received numerous honors for his work, including the National Medal of Technology, IEEE Medal of Honor, Marconi Prize, Japan Computer & Communications Prize, ACM Grace Murray Hopper Award, and IEEE Alexander Graham Bell Medal. He is also a Fellow of the US National Academy of Engineering, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the National Inventors, Consumer Electronics, and Internet Hall of Fame.

The ACM President, Yannis Ioannidis, said, “Ethernet has been the dominant way of connecting computers to other devices, to each other, and to the Internet. It is rare to see a technology scale from its origins to today’s multigigabit-per-second capacity. Even with the advent of WiFi, Ethernet remains the staple mode of data communication, especially when security and reliability are prioritized. It is especially fitting to recognize such an impactful invention during its 50th anniversary year.”

Jeff Dean, Google Senior Fellow and SVP of Google Research and AI added, “Ethernet is the foundational technology of the Internet, which supports over 5 billion users and enables much of modern life. Today, with an estimated 7 billion ports around the globe, Ethernet is so ubiquitous that we take it for granted. It’s easy to forget that our interconnected world would not be the same without Bob Metcalfe’s invention and his enduring vision that every computer must be networked.”

Metcalfe will receive the ACM A.M. Turing Award at the annual ACM Awards Banquet, which will be held on June 10 at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco.