The boy had been disappointed that phone calls provided only audio. He gazed up at the Picturephone’s oval screen, with its grainy, black-and-white video images—the culmination of US $500 million in R&D by the telecommunications giant—and thought, Wow…that looks terrible!
“That memory always stayed in the back of my mind,” Cioffi says. “As I went through my schooling and career, it seemed that the technology should be able to get there, and I was always curious about how we could make it happen.”
Nearly three decades later, at age 35, Cioffi developed the technology that would ultimately make possible video calls and much more including high-speed Internet. In 1991 he built the first asymmetric digital subscriber line (DSL) modem, which quickly replaced most dial-up connections. DSL meant a user could download data-heavy images and videos while simultaneously browsing the Internet and talking on the telephone, all from a single phone line.