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Former AT&T Scientists Receive National Medal of Technology [AT&T Government Issue]

by Hope Katz Gibbs
AT&T Government Issue
March / April 1995

TWO FORMER AT&T SCIENTISTS RECEIVED the nation’s highest honor for technical achievement last December for developing cellular telephone technology.

At an awards ceremony held at the U. S. Department of Commerce, Vice President Al Gore presented former AT&T Bell Laboratories employees Richard Frenkiel and Joel Engel with the National Medal of Technology. After the ceremony, they met the president in the Oval Office.

The National Medal of Technology is the nation’s highest award for technical achievement. The award was established 10 years ago by the U.S. Department of Commerce / Technology Administration. The president gives final approval on all selections. So far, 90 people and five companies have received the award.

“This award is the capstone to Engel and Gore a most gratifying experience,” said Engel, who was responsible for making the cellular phone fit federal regulations. “The results of our initial work on cellular communications have proven to be valuable to society, enhancing business productivity and the quality of personal life. As a consequence, the service has been a success in the marketplace.”

Engel is now vice president of Technology at Ameritech in Chicago. Frenkiel, who led the Bell Laboratories team that implemented the first cellular phone system, said next to seeing his cellular project succeed, and the second biggest thrill of his life was standing inside the Oval Office and meeting the president and vice president of the United States.

When the cellular project first began, fewer than 1,000 people per city could access a clear line on a cellular telephone at one time. Today, the $13 billion cellular telephone industry reaches out to more than 30 million users. An additional 17,000 people sign up daily.

“We knew cellular communications would be popular,” said Frenkiel, who retired from AT&T last year, “but we had no idea how explosive the growth would be.”


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