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Richard H. Frenkiel

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Biography

Richard (Dick) Frenkiel was born on March 4, 1943 in Brooklyn, New York. He attended Tufts University and Rutgers University, emerging with degrees in Mechanical Engineering and a deceptive aura of competence. Soon after joining Bell Laboratories in 1963, he was mistaken for an electrical engineer of similar height and moved into cellular systems engineering, where for sixteen years he did little serious harm.

He joined Bell Laboratories, where for two years he was involved in the design of recorded announcement machines. Abruptly, in the waning days of 1965, he was offered a chance to become involved in the early planning of cellular systems. While his practical knowledge of radio technology may have caused some concern, his abilities in the design of announcement machines were no longer in doubt. He therefore embraced this opportunity eagerly, beginning an involvement that was to last more than sixteen years.

During those early years, Dick had the good fortune to be paired with Philip T. Porter, a cellular pioneer who combined radio knowledge with innovation and a willingness to teach. They focused on cell geometry, vehicle locating and handoff; and overall system organization, leading to an early system proposal. With Porter and Joel S. Engel, Dick was an author of the "High Capacity Mobile Telephone System Feasibility Studies and System Plan" which was filed with the FCC in 1971 and became an important cellular text.

During the late 1960's. Dick was one of the authors of AT&T's cellular proposal to the FCC. After an obligatory "growth experience" at Corporate Headquarters, during which he acquired several suits, Dick returned to Bell Labs, where he became head of systems engineering for AMPS, the first cellular system in the US. The AMPS' focus was on system architecture, with emphasis on vehicle-locating techniques, channel parameters for spectral efficiency, and methods for efficient cell splitting. His "underlaid cell" concept allowed cellular systems to combine fragmentary grids of split cells with the continuity of an underlaid grid of larger cells. This allowed gradual transitions in cell size, which greatly reduced cost and logistic complexity while increasing trunking efficiency. He invented a method for efficient and low-cost cell-splitting, and served on the EIA committee which defined the first cellular standards to be used in the United States.

Dick was head of the Mobile Systems Engineering Department at Bell Labs during a five-year period which saw the transition from experimental systems to commercial service. Using data from the experimental systems in Newark and Chicago, and from large scale computer simulations, his department evaluated cellular performance, refined operating algorithms, and defined a set of interface specifications to allow nationwide compatibility among cellular operators. He served on the EIA Committee which proposed the cellular Rules which ultimately were adopted by the FCC.

For Dick, the euphoria of AT&T's first cellular service in Chicago was diminished when the company was torn apart by the government and excluded from the cellular business. While not directly responsible for this calamity, he was exiled to AT&T’s consumer electronics business. He became head of R&D for AT&T's cordless telephones, and led a team that developed cordless telephones that often worked. He was also responsible for the early manufacture of those products in the Far East, where he acquired several additional suits at more attractive prices.

Dick retired from AT&T in 1993, and joined WINLAB, the Wireless Information Networks Laboratory at Rutgers University, where he still teaches a course in wireless business strategy. In 1999, he served as mayor of Manalapan Township, where he has lived with his wife, Maizie, since 1966. As mayor, he was known for the unusual quality and variety of his suits.

For his work in wireless, Dick has received the Alexander Graham Bell Medal (1987), the Industrial Research Institute Achievement Award (1992), the National Medal of Technology (1994), and the Draper Prize (2013). He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and a Fellow of Bell Labs and the IEEE.