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India-born wireless pioneer Arogyaswami Paulraj gets Marconi Society Prize

Prof Arogyaswami Paulraj
Prof Arogyaswami Paulraj
India-born scientist Arogyaswami Joseph Paulraj, Emeritus Profssor at Stanford University, has been awarded the prestigious 2014 Marconi Society Prize for his invention and advancement of MIMO (Multiple Input Multiple Output) technology.
 
The award, which carries a $ 100,000 (Rs 62 lakh) prize, is the top global accolade for pioneers of information technology.
 
MIMO technology is a key enabler of wireless broadband services that benefit billions of people worldwide and is at the heart of the current WiFi and 4G mobile systems.
 
“Paulraj’s contributions to wireless technology, and the resulting benefit to mankind, are indisputable. Every WiFi router and 4G phone today uses MIMO technology pioneered by him,” Prof Sir David Payne, Chairman of the Marconi Society, said.
 
"His idea for using multiple antennas at both the transmitting and receiving stations - which is at the heart of the current high speed WiFi and 4G mobile systems – has revolutionized high speed wireless delivery of multimedia services for billions of people," a press release from the society said.
 
“Paul (as he is commonly known) has made profound contributions to wireless technology, and the resulting benefit to mankind is indisputable. Every wifi router and 4G phone today uses MIMO technology pioneered by him,” Prof Payne said.
 
Coimbatore-born Prof Paulraj finished high school at 15 and joined the Indian Navy and opted for the electrical engineering branch, where his training focused on practical skills for maintaining weapons systems. He taught himself subjects like control theory, information theory and signal processing. 
 
Impressed by his talent, the Navy sent him in 1969 to the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Delhi for its M.Tech. programe. Prof P V Indiresan of the institute persuaded the Navy to allow him to enroll in the Ph.D. programme.
 
That opportunity changed Prof Paulraj's life. In 1970, Stanford Prof. Thomas Kailath, an influential systems theorist, visited IIT Delhi to lecture on non-linear estimation. 
 
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Inspired by Prof Kailath’s lectures, Prof Paulraj went on to make fundamental advances in non-linear estimation of signals using advanced tools from Ito calculus and stochastic diffusion theory. The Navy also got a big payoff, with Prof Paulraj leading a project to redesign the sonar adding many new signal processing concepts. Three years later, in the early 1970s, the new technology was widely deployed in the fleet.
 
After a brief fellowship at Loughborough University U.K., the Navy assigned him to lead a much more ambitious project to design an advanced technology sonar not available to India because of military export restrictions. His team developed a world-class sonar system (APSOH) that was inducted into fleet service in 1983, a stunning achievement in military electronics for India. APSOH to this day ranks among the best sonars in the world. 
 
Retired Admiral R. H. Tahiliani, former Chief of the Naval Staff, recalling APSOH says, “The Navy is enormously proud of Paul's many achievements and will remain always indebted for his landmark development of the APSOH sonar.”
 
Following APSOH work, Prof Paulraj was given a two-year sabbatical leave to explore new areas, and his scientific supervisor suggested he should try to work at Stanford University. He wrote to Prof. Kailath, who despite initial scepticism, finally agreed to allow him to join his research group. 
 
At Stanford, Prof Paulraj worked on a multiple signals Directions of Arrival (DOA) estimation problem that had a long history of improvements using a spectrum approach. He proposed a totally new method called ESPRIT (Estimation of Signal Parameters via Rotational Invariance Techniques).This led to a mini-revolution spawning more than 1000 papers and over 50 doctoral dissertations; its applications now go far beyond array signal processing to spectral estimation and to system identification.
 
Paul returned to India in 1986 and served as the founding director for three major labs in India - CAIR (Center for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics), CDAC (Center for Development of Advanced Computing) and CRL (Central Research Labs of Bharat Electronics). 
 
He returned to the US in 1991. At Stanford, while awaiting a faculty appointment, he worked on signal separation experiments for airborne reconnaissance. He noticed something surprising: in presence of scattering, co-channel wireless signals from closely spaced transmit sources were often separable by an adaptive receiver antenna array. A few days later, sitting in a barber shop, he had an idea for increasing throughput in wireless systems using multiple transmit and receive antennas (MIMO - Multiple Input, Multiple Output). 
 
Prof Paulraj applied for a U.S, patent titled “Distributed Transmit – Directional Receive DTDR” (with his then supervisor Prof. Kailath as co-inventor) in February 1992 and the patent was granted in September 1994. 
 
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Spatial Multiplexing, as this is now known, boosts spectral efficiency by creating “parallel spatial data streams” within the same frequency channel. 
 
However, his attempts to attract interest from the mobile technology companies and funding agencies were met with deep skepticism. His claim that a 1,000,000-QAM system could be built using MIMO when the state-of-art was then 4-QAM engendered disbelief. Now, 20 years later, the MIMO-based 802.11ac WiFi supports 16,000,000-QAM.
 
Undaunted by the skepticism about MIMO’s practical feasibility, he took leave from Stanford in 1998 to found Iospan Wireless Inc. (initially known as Gigabit Wireless) and built a MIMO based commercial system. Venture firms finally paid attention after he demonstrated a 3x3 MIMO radio he built with his personal funds. While CDMA access technology was still the mainstay of the wireless industry, Paul pushed for OFDMA as the best access technology for incorporating MIMO. Iospan developed a MIMO-OFDMA based fixed wireless system to offer 4096-QAM with 2 spatial streams. By 2001, Iospan had firmly established that MIMO offers good value in typical cellular applications. Intel Corp. acquired Iospan’s technology in 2003, and Paul worked with Intel to develop the WiMAX mobile standards.
 
In 2004, Paul co-founded Beceem Communications to develop semiconductor solutions and the company emerged as a world leader in WIMAX semiconductors with more than 65% market share. It was acquired by Broadcom Corp. In 2006 and the 3GPP standards group also adopted Iospan’s MIMO-OFDMA as the core technology for the 4G mobile standards.
 
Stanford colleague and Marconi Fellow Prof. John Cioffi, the inventor of DSL technology, calls Paul’s technical capability “almost unparalleled in the world. But what impresses me most is how Paul endured the tremendous, pressure, turmoil and stress of people saying his ideas weren’t going to work, and persevered until he found success. Such people are pretty rare.”
 
"The potential of MIMO to multiply the capacity of wireless spectrum is seemingly limitless. Use of milli-metric band frequencies can soon enable much larger numbers of MIMO antennas and the corresponding boost in wireless capacity, Prof Paulraj said.
 
The Marconi Prize comes just three years after Prof Paulraj was honoured with the other major telecom technology award – the IEEE Alexander Graham Bell Medal for his work on theoretical foundations of MIMO.  
 
He is the only India-born scientist to receive both the Marconi Prize and the Bell Medal - the two top global IT technology awards.  After Sir J.C. Bose’s demonstration of the millimeter wave radio in 1895, Paulraj’s invention of MIMO in 1992 is the next major innovation in IT from an Indian born scientist.
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The Government of India had honoured him with the Padma Bhushan in 2010
 
In winning the prestigious award, Prof Paulraj has joined a very select group of top information technology (IT) pioneers such as Tim Berners-Lee (World Wide Web), Vint Cerf (Internet), Larry Page (Google Search), Marty Hellman (Public Key Cryptography) and Martin Cooper (Cell Phone).
 
The Marconi Society was established in 1974 through an endowment set up by Gioia Marconi Braga, daughter of Guglielmo Marconi, the Nobel laureate who invented radio (wireless telegraphy). It is best known for the Marconi Prize.
 
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