Looking at 10 innovators who changed the course of telecom

Sean Buckley, FierceTelecomI would like to call your attention to our second annual "Innovators who changed the course of telecom" series.

With the consumer's continual reliance on gaming consoles and wireless devices as well as the ongoing expectation that high speed Internet will be always available in our homes and at our businesses, it's not hard to forget the many innovators who laid the foundations that make these applications a reality.

FierceTelecom decided to take another look at 10 innovators that helped change the telecom industry as it exists today.

Once again, a number of our selections came from Bell Labs. Among them are innovators like Amos Joel, who pioneered more efficient ways speak on a landline wireline telephone and the mechanism that makes mobile roaming possible in the wireless network.

However, we also included two other noted scientists who did not work for Bell Labs, but whose work helped pave the way for optical communications: Charles K. Kao and Donald Keck, who had long careers at the former Standard Telephones and Cables (STC) and Corning.

Often dubbed the "Father of Fiber Optics," Kao led the development and use of fiber optics in telecommunications at STC when he showed how the high-loss of existing fiber optics came from impurities in the glass in 1965 and not the technology itself. An interesting irony of Kao's discovery was that Bell Labs initially dismissed it as a commercial pursuit, but later became interested in the idea four years later in 1969.

But these innovators' stories aren't just about technology alone. Another thing we noticed in compiling this year's list is that many of them were, not surprisingly, big advocates of education and driving diversity in the communications and engineering workplace.

Take Bell Labs stars Lincoln Hawkins and James West.

Hawkins not only was a pioneer in developing usable plastic coatings for telephone wires and methods to recycle plastics, but was also the first African American to work at Bell Labs. Following his retirement in 1976, he helped spearhead a program at Bell Labs and AT&T (NYSE: T) to recruit African American scientists and engineers.

Likewise, James West was a member of the Association of Black Laboratories Employees (ABLE) at Bell Labs, a program that obtained funding for the Summer Research Program (SRP) and Cooperate Research Fellowship Program (CRFP). Both these programs helped over 500 non-white students obtain degrees in science, engineering and mathematics.

No less compelling was Charles Kao. Similar to last year's honoree John Cioffi, Kao spent a good deal of his career as a teacher in between stints at STC and its parent company ITT, founding the Chinese University of Hong Kong's (CUHK) Department of Electronics in addition to spending time in teaching and administration roles at Trumbull College at Yale University and the Imperial College London.

Please join me in tipping a hat to these telecom industry innovators, and please take a look at our list from 2011, and please make suggestions on other candidates for 2013.--Sean