Posted by Rob Knies

Victor Bahl 

Victor Bahl, research manager of the Mobility and Networking Research Group at Microsoft Research Redmond, recalls a time, nearly 20 years distant, when the idea of a professional organization for those interested in mobile technology was merely a glimmer on the horizon.

Computing has come a long way over the past couple of decades, though, and now, Bahl finds himself being honored with the Outstanding Contribution Award from ACM SIGMOBILE, the organization he helped found.

The award is the highest honor bestowed on an individual by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Special Interest Group on Mobility of Systems, Users, Data, and Computing. The honor recognizes the lasting technical contribution made by a person and the influence that person has had on the field.

The citation for Bahl’s award, which will be recognized during MobiCom 2013, being held in Miami from Sept. 30 to Oct. 4, states that he was selected as the14th recipient of the Outstanding Contribution Award “for pioneering contributions to wireless Internet broadband technologies, and for inspirational leadership of the mobile-computing community.”

As the recipient of the honor, Bahl will be presenting a MobiCom keynote address on Oct. 2. In the days leading to his talk, he reflected on the genesis of SIGMOBILE in 1994-’95.

“I remember thinking that mobile was going to be big and that global interest in all technologies related to mobility would explode,” he recalls. “Unlike other research communities, the mobile community didn’t have a home, and I was determined to build us one.

“So on Feb. 13, 1995, I wrote a letter to ACM in which I made a case for forming SIGMOBILE. I built up support for my proposal by partnering with the academic heavyweights of that time.”

Now, almost 19 years later, SIGMOBILE, true to Bahl’s vision, plays a key role in setting the direction of computing in the 21st century.

“Since then, I have worked on making our SIG the most vibrant and cutting-edge nonprofit professional organization in the world,” Bahl says. “With five top-tier conferences, along with numerous workshops, international chapters, and awards under its umbrella, SIGMOBILE truly has become a home for our community.”

Bahl joins an accomplished roster of winners of the award, including David E. Culler, chair of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the University of California, Berkeley; Deborah Estrin, computer-science professor at Cornell Tech in New York City and a pioneer in embedded network sensing; and the late Mark Weiser, a chief scientist at Xerox PARC known as the father of ubiquitous computing.

Bahl, who held leadership roles in the organization from 1997 to 2009, is a worthy addition to that list, says Sharad Agarwal, a researcher in the Mobility and Networking Research Group and information director for SIGMOBILE.

“Victor is rarely intimidated by anything or anyone,” Agarwal says. “When you look at his accomplishments, it is not hard to see why. Victor has consistently been making strides in the frontier of wireless broadband research, including pioneering work in Wi-Fi hotspots, multiradio systems, and, most recently, in white-space networking.

“The work he has led has impacted the mobile-computing community through practical implementations of wireless networks that are faster, consume less energy, and are more widely accessible to people.”

Bahl has enjoyed a star-studded career, having made the technological advances Agarwal describes in addition to being published prolifically, being awarded dozens of patents, collecting many other honors, and helping to foster the development of research leaders through a variety of professional and Microsoft activities over the years. Of all that, though, he says the achievement of which he is most proud is the role he played in founding SIGMOBILE.

During his MobiCom keynote, he plans to trace the path that led him to the organization’s loftiest accolade—and to point the way forward.

“I plan to talk about my life at the intersection of industry and academia,” he divulges. “I will tell five stories. Four will be about my research, how and why I chose to work on the problems, how the industry and academia were evolving during that time, and what impact we had and the lessons I learned.

“My fifth story is still being written. For this, I intend to share some of my thoughts on where we are headed, how to use the lessons I have learned, and the problems we must solve.”

As he prepares to be feted during MobiCom, Bahl is eager to credit Microsoft Research for providing an environment for productive, rewarding work.

“I choose to work at Microsoft Research because of the people,” he says. “I love being around super-smart people who are driven by a deep desire to have long-lasting impact on our world, well beyond our company’s interests.

“There are only a handful of companies that give back to the community the way Microsoft and Microsoft Research do. The academic freedom to pursue one’s vision, combined with the generous resources and the mutual respect we have for one another, makes Microsoft Research a dream place to work.”