Consider how research in the leftmost area in Figure 1—digital communications—has propelled the communications revolution that continues to unfold today:
• Code division multiple access, which had origins in World War II anti-jamming technology and later was used in military communications satellites, was developed and commercialized as a new standard for cellular telephony in the 1990s by Qualcomm, a company founded by DARPA-funded university researchers. It uses unique mathematical codes to modulate transmissions, thus allowing multiple users to efficiently share a radio channel and providing relative immunity to interference.
• Research in the 1990s on multiple-input and multiple-output techniques, beginning with closely related university research and followed by research at Bell Laboratories, has been a fundamental enabler of today’s wireless communications technologies.
• Research and serious engineering efforts in universities through the 1990s led to the ability to use complementary metal oxide semiconductor technology for radio-frequency signals, a development that made it possible to include WiFi, GPS, and Bluetooth at low cost in small, mobile devices.
• Early academic research into packet switched networks provided an underpinning for the local area networks that connect computers within homes and businesses as well as for the Internet that links the globe.
• A university spin-off company developed and commercialized a practical approach to digital subscriber line (DSL) technology, which made it possible to provide high-speed data networking over public telephone network lines.
A similar list could be constructed for each of the research areas represented in Figure 1. As Figure 1 and Table 2 illustrate, investments started more than four decades ago have been critical enablers of the products and services in use today. They also illustrate how research can yield important results not originally contemplated when a first investment was made. Finally, they describe some of the open questions that researchers pursue today and suggest some of the potential applications that lie ahead provided there is a continued commitment to IT research.