Paul Baran

For the economist with same name, see Paul A. Baran.
Paul Baran
Born (1926-04-29)April 29, 1926
Grodno, Poland
(now Belarus)
Died March 26, 2011(2011-03-26) (aged 84)
Palo Alto, California, United States
Citizenship United States
Institutions RAND Corporation
Alma mater UCLA (M.S., 1959)
Drexel Institute of Technology (B.S., 1949)
Known for Packet Switching
Notable awards IEEE Alexander Graham Bell Medal (1990)
Computer History Museum Fellow (2005) [1]
Marconi Prize (1991)
NMTI (2007)
National Inventors Hall of Fame
Spouse Evelyn Murphy Baran, PhD

Paul Baran (/ˈbærən/; April 29, 1926 – March 26, 2011) was a Polish-born American engineer who was a pioneer in the development of computer networks. He was one of the two independent inventors of packet switched computer networking,[2] and went on to start several companies and develop other technologies that are an essential part of modern digital communication.

Early life

Paul Baran was born in Grodno (then Second Polish Republic, now part of Belarus) on April 29, 1926.[3][4] He was the youngest of three children in a Polish-Jewish family,[5] with the Yiddish given name "Pesach". His family moved to the United States on May 11, 1928,[6] settling in Boston and later in Philadelphia, where his father, Morris "Moshe" Baran (1884–1979), opened a grocery store. He graduated from Drexel University in 1949 (then called Drexel Institute of Technology), with a degree in electrical engineering. He then joined the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Company, where he did technical work on UNIVAC models, the first brand of commercial computers in the USA.[7] In 1955 he married Evelyn Murphy, moved to Los Angeles, and worked for Hughes Aircraft on radar data processing systems. He obtained his master's degree in engineering from UCLA in 1959, with advisor Gerald Estrin while taking night classes. His thesis was on character recognition.[3] While Baran initially stayed on at UCLA to pursue his doctorate, a heavy travel and work schedule forced him to abandon his doctoral work.[8]

Packet switched network design

After joining the RAND Corporation in 1959, Baran took on the task of designing a "survivable" communications system that could maintain communication between end points in the face of damage from nuclear weapons.[9] At the time of the Cold War, most American military communications used high frequency connections which could be put out of action for many hours by a nuclear attack. Baran decided to automate RAND director Franklin R. Collbohm's previous work with emergency communication over conventional AM radio networks and showed that a distributed relay node architecture could be survivable. The Rome Air Development Center soon showed that the idea was practicable.[10]

Using the mini-computer technology of the day, Baran and his team developed a simulation suite to test basic connectivity of an array of nodes with varying degrees of linking. That is, a network of n-ary degree of connectivity would have n links per node. The simulation randomly 'killed' nodes and subsequently tested the percentage of nodes that remained connected. The result of the simulation revealed that networks where n ≥ 3 had a significant increase in resilience against even as much as 50% node loss. Baran's insight gained from the simulation was that redundancy was the key.[11] His first work was published as a RAND report in 1960,[12] with more papers generalizing the techniques in the next two years.[13]

After proving survivability Baran and his team needed to show proof of concept for this design such that it could be built. This involved high level schematics detailing the operation, construction, and cost of all the components required to construct a network that leveraged this new insight of redundant links. The result of this was one of the first store-and-forward data layer switching protocols, a link-state/distance vector routing protocol, and an unproved connection-oriented transport protocol. Explicit detail of these designs can be found in the complete series of reports On Distributed Communications, published by RAND in 1964.[14]

The design flew in the face of telephony design of the time, placing inexpensive and unreliable nodes at the center of the network, and more intelligent terminating 'multiplexer' devices at the endpoints. In Baran's words, unlike the telephone company's equipment, his design didn't require expensive "gold plated" components to be reliable. This Distributed Network that Baran introduced was intended to route around damage. It provided connection to others through many points, not one centralized connection. Fundamental to this scheme was the division of the information into "blocks" before sending them out across the network. This enabled the data to travel faster and communications lines to be used more efficiently. Each block was sent separately, traveling different paths and rejoining into a whole when they were received at their destination.

Selling the idea

After the publication of On Distributed Communications, Paul Baran presented the findings of his team to a number of audiences, including AT&T engineers (not to be confused with Bell Labs engineers, who at the time provided Paul Baran with the specifications for the first generation of T1 circuit which he used as the links in his network design proposal). In subsequent interviews Baran mentioned how the AT&T engineers scoffed at his idea of non-dedicated physical circuits for voice communications, at times claiming that Baran simply did not understand how voice telecommunication worked.[15]

Donald Davies at the National Physical Laboratory in the United Kingdom also thought of the same idea[3][16] and implemented a trial network. While Baran used the term "message blocks" for his units of communication, Davies used the term "packets" as it was capable of being translated into languages other than English without compromise.[17] He applied the concept to a general-purpose computer network. Davies' key insight came in the realization that computer network traffic was inherently "bursty" with periods of silence, compared with relatively constant telephone traffic. It was in fact Davies' work on packet switching, and not Baran's, that initially caught the attention of the developers of ARPANET, at a conference in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, in October 1967.[18] Baran was happy to acknowledge that Davies had come up with the same idea as him independently. In an e-mail to Davies he wrote

You and I share a common view of what packet switching is all about, since you and I independently came up with the same ingredients.[19]

Leonard Kleinrock, a contemporary working on analyzing data flow, also reached similar conclusions when he developed a theoretical basis for the operation of packet networks in his proposal for a Ph.D. thesis in 1961. He published his ideas in that year.[20] However, Kleinrock's contribution to packet switching is disputed by some,[21][22] including Baran[23] and Davies.[24]

In 1969, when the US Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) started developing the idea of an inter-networked set of terminals to share computing resources, the reference materials which they considered included Baran and the RAND Corporation's "On Distributed Communications" volumes.[3] The resiliency of a packet-switched network that uses link-state routing protocols used on the Internet stems in some part from the research to develop a network that could survive a nuclear attack.[3][25]

Later work

In 1968 Baran was a founder of the Institute for the Future, and was then involved in other networking technologies developed in Silicon Valley. He participated in a review of the NBS proposal for a Data Encryption Standard in 1976, along with Martin Hellman and Whitfield Diffie of Stanford University.[26] In the early 1980s, Baran founded PacketCable, Inc, "to support impulse-pay television channels, locally generated videotex, and packetized voice transmission".[27][28] PacketCable (also known as Packet Technologies) spun off StrataCom to commercialize his packet voice technology for the telephony market. This technology led to the first commercial pre-standard Asynchronous Transfer Mode product. He founded Telebit after conceiving its discrete multitone modem technology in the mid-1980s. This was one of the first commercial products to use Orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing, which was later widely deployed in DSL modems and Wi-Fi wireless modems. In 1985, Baran founded Metricom, the first wireless Internet company, which deployed Ricochet,[4] the first public wireless mesh networking system. In 1992, he also founded Com21, an early cable modem company.[7] Following Com21, Baran founded and was president of GoBackTV, which specializes in personal TV and cable IPTV infrastructure equipment for television operators.[29] Most recently he founded Plaster Networks, providing an advanced solution for connecting networked devices in the home or small office through existing wiring.[30]

Baran extended his work in packet switching to wireless-spectrum theory, developing what he called "kindergarten rules" for the use of wireless spectrum.[31]

In addition to his innovation in networking products, he is also credited with inventing the first doorway gun detector.[7][32]

He received an honorary doctorate when he gave the commencement speech at Drexel in 1997.[33]


Baran died in Palo Alto, California at the age of 84 on March 26, 2011,[3][34] due to complications from lung cancer.[25] Upon his death James Thomson, the president of RAND, stated that "Our world is a better place for the technologies Paul Baran invented and developed, and also because of his consistent concern with appropriate public policies for their use."[34] One of the fathers of the internet, Vinton Cerf, stated that "Paul wasn't afraid to go in directions counter to what everyone else thought was the right or only thing to do."[25] According to Paul Saffo, Baran also believed that innovation was a "team process" and he didn't seek credit for himself.[32] On hearing news of his death, Robert Kahn, co-inventor of the Internet, said: "Paul was one of the finest gentlemen I ever met and creative to the very end."

Awards and honors


  1. Paul Baran 2005 Fellow
  2. Harris
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Katie Hafner (March 27, 2011). "Paul Baran, Internet Pioneer, Dies at 84". The New York Times.
  4. 1 2 Nathan Brewer; et al. (March 28, 2011). "Paul Baran". IEEE Global History Network. New York: IEEE. Retrieved March 28, 2011.
  5. Georgi Dalakov. "Paul Baran". History of Computers web site. Retrieved March 31, 2011.
  6. David Ira Snyder (August 4, 2009). "Morris "Moshe" Baran (1884–1979)". Genealogy of the Baran family. web site. Retrieved March 29, 2011.
  7. 1 2 3 4 "Paul Baran - Franklin Laureate Database". The Franklin Institute Awards - Laureate Database. Philadelphia, PA: The Franklin Institute. Retrieved March 29, 2011.
  8. Hafner, Katie; Lyon, Matthew (1996). Where wizards stay up late : the origins of the Internet (1st Touchstone ed.). New York: Simon and Schuster. p. 54. ISBN 0-684-81201-0.
  9. "Internet pioneer Paul Baran passes away". BBC News. March 28, 2011. Retrieved March 28, 2011.
  10. Brand, Stewart (March 2001). "Founding Father". Wired. New York: Condé Nast Digital. 9 (3). ISSN 1059-1028. OCLC 433726773. Retrieved March 27, 2011. Paul Baran conceived the Internet's architecture at the height of the Cold War. Forty years later, he says the Net's biggest threat wasn't the USSR—it was the phone company Stewart Brand's interviews Paul Baran about his work at RAND on survivable networks.
  11. "Paul Baran and the Origins of the Internet". RAND corporation. Retrieved March 29, 2011.
  12. Paul Baran (1960). "Reliable Digital Communications Systems Using Unreliable Network Repeater Nodes". RAND Corporation papers, document P-1995. Retrieved March 29, 2011.
  13. Paul Baran (1962). "On Distributed Communications Networks". RAND Corporation papers, document P-2626. Retrieved March 29, 2011.
  14. Paul Baran; et al. (1964). "On Distributed Communications". Rand. Archived from the original on June 15, 2006.
  15. Abell, John C (March 28, 2011). "Internet Architect Paul Baran Dies at 84". Wired. Retrieved March 29, 2011.
  16. Georgi Dalakov. "Donald Davies". History of Computers web site. Retrieved March 31, 2011.
  17. Harris, p. 6
  18. Isaacson, Walter (2014). The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution. Simon & Schuster. p. 237. ISBN 9781476708690.
  19. Harris, p. 9
  20. Kleinrock, Leonard (1961), "Information flow in large communication nets", RLE Quarterly Progress Report (1)
  21. Alex McKenzie (2009), Comments on Dr. Leonard Kleinrock's claim to be "the Father of Modern Data Networking", retrieved April 23, 2015 "...there is nothing in the entire 1964 book that suggests, analyzes, or alludes to the idea of packetization."
  22. Isaacson, Walter (2014). The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution. Simon & Schuster. p. 245. ISBN 9781476708690. This led to an outcry among many of the other Internet pioneers, who publicly attacked Kleinrock and said that his brief mention of breaking messages into smaller pieces did not come close to being a proposal for packet switching
  23. Katie Hefner (November 8, 2001), "A Paternity Dispute Divides Net Pioneers", New York Times, Until Dr. Kleinrock began making his case prominently, two others -- Donald Davies, a British expert on computer security, and Paul Baran, formerly of the RAND Corporation -- were widely recognized as packet switching's inventors.
  24. Donald Davies (2001), "A Historical Study of the Beginnings of Packet Switching", Computer Journal, British Computer Society, I can find no evidence that he understood the principles of packet switching.
  25. 1 2 3 "Internet pioneer Paul Baran passes away". BBC. March 28, 2011. Retrieved March 29, 2011.
  26. "DES (Data Encryption Standard) Review at Stanford University - Recording and Transcript". 1976.
  27. "Baran's keynote on The Past, Present, and Future of Convergence". 1999-02-09. Archived from the original on April 15, 2012. Retrieved 2012-03-20.
  28. Baran, "Packetcable: A New Interactive Cable System Technology", 31st Annual NCTA Convention Official Transcript, 1982, cited in US patent 4,754,426
  29. "Management Team". goBackTV web site. Retrieved March 29, 2011.
  30. "About Plaster Networks". Plaster Networks web site. Retrieved March 29, 2011.
  31. Baran, Paul (November 9, 1994). "Keynote Talk Transcript, 8th Annual Conference on Next Generation Networks Washington, DC". EFF "GII - NII - Wireless/Cellular/Radio" Archive. San Francisco, CA: Electronic Frontier Foundation. Retrieved March 29, 2011.
  32. 1 2 Jessica Guynn (March 29, 2011). "Paul Baran dies at 84; inventor helped lay foundation for Internet". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 29, 2011.
  33. Nita Lelyveld (June 15, 1997). "Opportunity Lies In Ideas, Engineer Tells Drexel Grads Paul Baran, "the Grandfather Of The Internet" Spoke At His Alma Mater. He Received An Honorary Doctorate". The Inquirer. Philadelphia. Retrieved March 29, 2011.
  34. 1 2 "Packet switching inventor Paul Baran dies aged 84". ZDNet UK. March 29, 2011. Retrieved March 29, 2011.
  35. "IEEE Alexander Graham Bell Medal Recipients" (PDF). IEEE. p. 2. Retrieved March 29, 2011.
  36. "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter B" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved May 17, 2011.
  37. "The National Medal of Technology and Innovation 2007 Laureates". The United States Patent and Trademark Office. January 7, 2010. Retrieved March 31, 2011.
  38. "In Memoriam: Paul Baran MS '59". UCLA Engineering web site. Retrieved March 28, 2011.
  39. 2012 Inductees, Internet Hall of Fame website. Last accessed April 24, 2012
Preceded by
Gerald R. Ash and Billy B. Oliver
IEEE Alexander Graham Bell Medal
Succeeded by
C. Chapin Cutler, John O. Limb and Arun Netravali
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