Logo: University of Southern California

DSL Pioneer John Cioffi Delivers 11th Viterbi Distinguished Lecture

Cioffi delivered his talk titled "Ubiquitous Cost-Effective Gigabit Per Second Broadband Access: It's Coming, And Not The Way You Think!" on February 28.
By: Anna-Catherine Brigida
March 05, 2013 —
Professor and host Alexander Sawchuk with speaker John Cioffi

John Cioffi, pioneer of digital subscriber line (DSL) technology and the 11th Viterbi Distinguished Lecturer, spoke optimistically about the future of DSL for its billions of users worldwide on February 28.

Some may believe that DSL will become irrelevant as cable and fiber broadband increase in popularity, but Cioffi disagrees.

“DSL today is a growing 70% of broadband connections around the world,” Cioffi said to the Viterbi Lecture crowd. Those in attendance last Thursday at the USC Andrus Gerontology Center auditorium included 2007 Distinguished Lecturer Robert McEliece, and Cioffi’s former Ph.D. student, Professor Rick Wesel, now associate dean of academic and student affairs at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering.

Cioffi is chairman and CEO of ASSIA, Inc., a major vendor to broadband service providers worldwide. His company bears the name of his wife, whom he calls his biggest supporter.

“As engineers, many of us hope to have a real impact on everyday people,” said USC Viterbi Dean Yannis Yortsos. “John, meanwhile, is looking to impact things on the planetary scale.”

Currently, over 400 million people worldwide use DSL service. In the next few years, that number is projected to reach 600 million as more Asians and South Americans begin to subscribe, Cioffi noted.

Cioffi addresses crowd of Viterbi faculty and students.

Cioffi hopes to reach his goal of providing high speed Internet to everyone, everywhere, while still being cost efficient. A complex system of copper wires is already in place that connects broadband users for DSL. While new technologies such as fiber broadband connections would allow for faster Internet speed, completely replacing the copper wire system with fiber broadband technology would be costly and time consuming.

“It took 100 years to build all that,” Cioffi said. “Imagine how much running a new medium to every one of those places would cost and how long it would take to do that.”

The estimated cost to install fiber lines to fully replace the copper ones is about $3000 to $10,000 per subscriber. If only part of the copper wires were replaced, subscribers could pay just $250 for installation for a much faster internet connection.

The Viterbi Distinguished Lecture Series began 11 years ago with Andrew Viterbi himself as the first speaker. Each year’s Viterbi speaker is chosen for significant contributions in the field of digital communication.