Alexander (Sandy) Fraser

June 8, 1937 - June 13, 2022

Alexander (Sandy) Fraser

Alexander (Sandy) Fraser passed away peacefully on June 13, 2022, with his wife, Elisabeth at his side. Born in Surrey, England in 1937, Sandy spent the war years with his family in Lancashire where his father was a research chemist. The family subsequently moved to Weston Super Mare where his mother ran a small hotel overlooking the sea.

Sandy earned his Bachelor's degree in aeronautical engineering from Bristol University, UK. He began his career at Ferranti and then at Cambridge University, UK, where he was awarded a Ph.D. He was recruited to join AT&T Bell Labs in 1969. He became Director of its Computing Science Research Center in 1982, Executive Director in 1987, and Associate Vice President for Information Science Research in 1994. In 1996, when AT&T spun off Lucent and Bell Labs., Sandy, who was passionate about research, led the effort to establish Shannon Labs. (AT&T Labs Research) in Florham Park, NJ. As VP for Research, he ran Shannon Labs for two years, at which time he was appointed Chief Scientist so that he could focus his time and research energy on the development of a new architecture and protocols for a large-scale Internet focused on networking to the home.

In 2002, Sandy retired from AT&T and formed Fraser Research in Princeton NJ, where he continued his research and provided summer internships for a few select graduate students interested in networking. In 2009, he completed his vision for redesigning the Internet. While at Ferranti, Sandy developed Nebula, a language and compiler for the Sirius computer. At Cambridge University, he developed the file system for the Atlas 2 (Titan) computer. Once at Bell Labs, in the early 1970s, Sandy's attention turned to computer networking. He invented cell-based networks, the precursor to Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM), one of the foundational protocols of modern data communications. He also developed Datakit, the first virtual circuit network switch, which became the backbone of the AT&T telecommunications network.

In the late 1980s, Sandy created the Experimental Universities Network (XUNET) project to promote graduate research on computer networks. Eight universities and labs across the country were linked by a network of Datakit Virtual Circuit Switches joined by high-speed links to provide a wide area systems research laboratory where student researchers could run network experiments.

Although Sandy's research focused primarily on networking, he was also interested in the benefits that improved networks could provide. He recognized and nurtured technologies that connected people to the Internet using cable tv channels, a variety of wireless approaches and fiber optics believing education and audio and video to the home would require large amounts of bandwidth.

In the late 1990s, he developed a plan for a network architecture to bring high-speed networking to the home - a capability which is now taken for granted but was almost unknown 25 years ago. Realizing that the new network infrastructure would need a business justification, Sandy promoted research projects that would "fill the pipes".

Among these projects was high-fidelity audio coding. Sandy supported researcher participation in ISO MPEG, resulting in the MPEG Advanced Audio Coder ("AAC") international standard. Sandy promoted AAC use to other companies, notably including Apple, which adopted AAC for its iTunes music application.

Sandy contracted for the development of innovative test platforms for AAC, including the Euphony processor, one of the first System-on-Chip microprocessors. Euphony was the "brains" of one of the first solid-state music players, FlashPAC, which was used to demonstrate AAC to potential adopters.

Today AAC is deployed on every smartphone worldwide and is one of the most widely used music compression applications - if someone has MP4 files, they're using AAC.

Sandy has received numerous awards for his pioneering contributions to the architecture of communication networks through the development of virtual circuit switching technology. He was a member of the National Academy of Engineering, and a Fellow of the British Computer Society and the IEEE. He was a life member of ACM. He received the 1989 Koji Kobayashi Computers and Communications Award "for contributions to computer communications and the invention of virtual-circuit switching," the 1992 ACM SIGCOMM Award for "pioneering concepts, such as virtual circuit switching, space-division packet switching, and window flow control," and the 2001 IEEE Richard W. Hamming Medal "for pioneering contributions to the architecture of communication networks through the development of virtual circuit switching technology." Sandy has over twenty patents and published numerous professional papers.

As a young man, Sandy was an avid cyclist going on weekly rides with the local club (a passion he passed on to his sons). He enjoyed club cycling with his first wife, Thirza, who sadly died at the young age of 31. Sandy and Elisabeth were married in 1970 and subsequently built their house in Bernardsville where they raised their two sons, Tim and Ben. Sandy enjoyed building things and creating things and always had a workshop. He also loved being outside in nature. He especially loved being close to the ocean, and the family spent many memorable vacations on Kiawah Island, SC.

Sandy is survived by his loving wife, Elisabeth, his son Tim and family of Franklin Township, NJ, his son Ben and family of East Amwell, NJ, and grandsons Jake, Tyler, Grey and Leo. Sandy also leaves siblings Carol of Manali, India, David of Pearland, Texas, and Tina of Princethorpe, UK.

Burial of his cremains will be private; a celebration of his life will take place on October 1, 2022, at the Hunterdon Art Museum in Clinton, NJ and also on August 6, 2022 at the Graduate Hotel in Cambridge, UK. In lieu of flowers, a donation in his name may be made to the Alzheimer's Association or to a charity of your choice. For more information, please e-mail . Arrangements have been under the direction of the Kimble Funeral Home, Princeton, NJ.

On February 15, 2023, the Cambridge University Computer Laboratory in Cambridge England will host a memorial seminar to honor Sandy. It will take place 4pm GMT, and may be joined through Zoom.

(February 15, 2023 at 4pm GMT)

Return Home