Chip Hall of Fame: Amati Communications Overture ADSL Chip Set

This communications chip helped to usher in the age of broadband Internet

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Amati Communications Overture ADSL Chip Set
Photo: Peter Chow

Overture ADSL Chip Set

Manufacturer: Amati Communications

Category: Interfacing

Year: 1994

Remember when DSL came along and you chucked that pathetic 56.6-kilobit-per-second modem into the trash? Okay, a few years later you ended up chucking that DSL modem into the trash too as dedicated fiber-optic-based broadband networks rolled out. But for many consumers, DSL was the first taste of what high-speed Internet could do, not least as a distribution system for music and movies. It was a great transitional technology: As long as the subscriber wasn’t too far from an exchange, DSL turned existing regular audio telephone lines into high-speed digital connections.

The epicenter of this broadband revolution was Amati Communications, a startup out of Stanford University. In the 1990s, it came up with a DSL modulation approach called discrete multitone, or DMT. It’s basically a way of making one phone line look like hundreds of subchannels and improving transmission using an inverse Robin Hood strategy. “Bits are robbed from the poorest channels and given to the wealthiest channels,” says John M. Cioffi, a cofounder of Amati and now an engineering professor at Stanford. DMT beat competing approaches—including ones from giants like AT&T—and became a global standard for DSL. In the mid-1990s, Amati’s DSL chip set (one analog, two digital) sold in modest quantities, but by 2000, volume had increased to millions. In the early 2000s, sales exceeded 100 million chips per year. Texas Instruments bought Amati in 1997.

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A sign outside of a building says Palo Alto Research Center Xerox

An undated exterior view of the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) is shown in Palo Alto, California.

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In late 1969, C. Peter McColough, chairman of Xerox Corp., told the New York Society of Security Analysts that Xerox was determined to develop “the architecture of information” to solve the problems that had been created by the “knowledge explosion.” Legend has it that McColough then turned to Jack E. Goldman, senior vice president of research and development, and said, “All right, go start a lab that will find out what I just meant.”

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