Professor Richard Thompson

School of Information Sciences | University of Pittsburgh

Telecommunications and Networking Program
717 SIS Building
135 North Bellefield Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15260

Phone: (412) 624-9423
Fax: (412) 624-2788
Email (preferred):

Research & Publications

Schedule for Fall 2009


  • Telcom 2210 Physical Layer | Wednesdays 6-9
  • Telcom 2820 Cryptography | Tuesdays 3-6
  • Telcom 2030 Telecom Math (on-line)

Office Hours:

  • In SIS 717A, MWF: 3-4:30

Dr. Thompson received the BS in Electrical Engineering from Lafayette College in 1964, the MS in Electrical Engineering from Columbia University in 1966, and the Ph.D. in Computer Science from the University of Connecticut in 1971. His PhD advisor was the late Prof. Taylor Booth.


Professional Experience
Dr. Thompson has professional experience in academia, industry, and government. Academic positions include: (1) 1969-1971 at the University of Connecticut in Storrs CT, as a teaching assistant, research assistant, and instructor in the Electrical Engineering Department, while pursuing Ph.D. degree; (2) 1971-77 at Virginia Polytechnic Institute in Blacksburg VA as an Assistant and Associate Professor in the Electrical Engineering Department, with a courtesy appointment in Computer Science; and (3) 1989-present at the University of Pittsburgh as Professor of Telecommunications in the School of Information Sciences, with secondary appointment in Electrical Engineering. Industrial positions include: (1) 1963-68 at Bell Laboratories in Holmdel NJ as a Member of Technical Staff in the Local Switching Development Center; (2) 1968-69 at Litton Industries in Hartford CT as a Senior Research Engineer in the Royal Typewriter Division; and (3) 1977-1993 at AT&T Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill NJ as a Member of Technical Staff in the Digital Systems Research Department. Government positions include: (1) 1993-95 at National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg MD in a permanent part-time position in NIST's Advanced Systems Division.


Dr. Thompson's expertise falls in five areas. (1) In Communications Switching, he has research and practical experience in system and network architectures, control algorithms and intelligent networks. He authored book on Telephone Switching Systems. He has special research expertise in photonic switching in space, time, and wavelength and practical expertise in switching software. His recent work is in IP Telephony. (2) In Computer Science, he has research expertise in automata theory and formal languages, cellular automata, and fault tolerance. He has special research expertise in probabilistic automata and practical expertise in software architecture and software engineering. (3) In Human-Telecom Interaction, he has research expertise in integrated communications terminals, human-computer interaction, and integrated multi-media services. He has knowledge of linguistics and practical expertise in sensory perception and cognition. (4) In Transmission, he has practical expertise in digital and optical transmission. He wrote about 50% of jointly-authored book on The Physical Layer of Communications Systems. (5) In Technology Transfer, he has tried to commercialize four different research projects at Bell Labs, one at Virginia Tech, and two at Pitt. He worked closely with companies on two previous projects at Pitt, and is currently working with Telecontinuity, Inc.


Large Research Projects
Dr. Thompson directed the following large projects: (1) Electronic Step-by-Step Telephone System, where he conceived the system and supervised prototype construction; (2) Fault-Tolerant Tessellation Automata, doing research in rearrangeable cellular design; (3) Get-Set, a prototype combination of telephone and computer terminal; (4) Multi-Division Photonic Switching, including research in photonic timeslot interchange, wavelength-multiplexed synchronization, and photonic network architectures for switching in space, time, and wavelength; (5) DiSCO, where he conceived a time-space-time photonic switching system and supervised prototype construction; (6) the Telecommunications Education and Research Network, a common WAN Lab that was shared by the nation's 35 ICA-supported Telecom programs; (7) Broadband Intelligent Network Testbed for Intelligent Network software architectures and provisioning of broadband services; (8) Mobile Law Enforcement Network, where he worked with a local entrepreneur to develop a wireless data system that enables police officers to access various databases from squad cars and bicycles; (9) Dependent Packet Queuing, researching a probabilistic automata model for statistical dependence among packets; (10) IP Telephony, investigating packetization for minimum delay and techniques for optimum speech quality; and (11) the Global Ubiquitous Network, a proposed architecture for a photonic-switched global network that uses WDM channel-switching for regular edge-to-edge communications and Optical Burst Switching for any overflow traffic.


Academic courses
Dr. Thompson's repertoire of courses includes: (1) Telephone Switching Systems - the hardware aspects of telephone switching, covering telephone operation, blocking calculations, PSTN architecture, descriptions of six historical systems, design of private networks, comparison of circuit- and packet-switching, and the future network; (2) Intelligent Networks - the software and control aspects of telephone switching, covering signaling and the SS7 Network, the software architectures of three historical systems, software and feature development, the architecture of the Advanced Intelligent Network, and what's beyond the IN; (3) IP Telephony - the issues of voice communications over packets, covering digitization, compression, and packetization of voice; discusses tradeoffs for managing delay and other quality issues; describes alternate IP signaling implementations; (4) Photonic Communications - the technology of lightwave communications, covering optical fiber, attenuation, modes, distortion, photodetectors and semiconductor lasers, link power budget calculations, and a large unit on photonic switching; (5) Designing Computer & Network Services - Implementing user-oriented services, covering human audio I/O, human visual I/O, human data I/O, human cognition, and the impact of networks and electronics on each of them, and discussing how users are served and the tradeoffs between a human activity and the equivalent telecom service that might replace it; (6) Electronics for Telecommunications, a remedial course for MST students who are not EEs, covering basic electrical circuit theory, including phasors and bandwidth, also transistors and amplifiers, digital electronics and logic design, and Fourier analysis; (7) Physical Layer of Communications - including a review of electronics, the spectral analysis of signals, analysis of random voltages, analog signals and their impairments and compensations, digital signals and their impairments and compensations (including information theory, synchronization, line coding, bit-error rate, and link power budgets), the physical characteristics of wire, fiber, and wireless channels, modulation, and multiplexing in space, time, frequency, and wavelength; (8) Digital Transmission - the "systems" aspects of digital transmission, covering information theory, synchronization, and line coding, describing the relationship among, bit error rate, signal to noise ratio, and link length, presenting details of DSx, Sonet, and block multiplexing frame formats, and discussing new loop access technologies, digital modulation, and the Iridium project; (9) Introduction to Telecom and Networking - a first course based on the OSI stack, (10) Computer Networks - a second networking course that covers details of TCP, IP, routing algorithms, and the MAC layer; and (11) Cryptography.


Dr. Thompson is: a Senior Member of the IEEE and active in the IEEE Communications Society; a lifelong member of the IEEE CommSoc Technical Committee on Switching/Routing (and past chairman); active in the IEEE Pittsburgh Section's Communications Chapter since 1991 (and chair from 1991-98); a charter member and board member of ITERA, the Int'l Telecommunications Education and Research Assoc. and 2007 recipient of ITERA's career award for outstanding research contributions to Telecommunications, a member of the Telecommunications Managers Association (TMA) in Pittsburgh since 1990. He has published 21 archival papers, 32 refereed conference papers, and 14 other kinds of publications, and books on Telephone Switching Systems (Artech House, 2000) and The Physical Layer of Communications (Artech House, 2006). He is active in consulting and custom training for several companies.

Dr. Thompson has interests in sports and music. He received awards as his class' outstanding student-athlete in high school and in college. He is a cancer survivor and strong Christian. He and Sandy, his wife of 45 years, reside in Harmar Township, except during January - March, when they live in Jupiter, FL. The Thompsons have traveled to many parts of the world, and they have two children and seven grandchildren.


Last Updated: August 21, 2009