In the late 1980s, I was appointed director of the Low Earth Orbit Satellite Communications System project, created in the Soviet Union, in response to the American Star Wars program. It was a critical part of our general concept. Since we needed to transfer a lot of data, I implemented the IP protocol there. In addition, I was appointed chief designer of the National Program for New Computers for Space in 1988. As a result, I had a lot of freedom to make crazy and risky technical decisions.
In October 1990, a US delegation consisting of Bill Joy (co-founder of Sun Microsystems), John Gage (Sun Microsystems, Director of Science Office), Rusty SchweickartSchweickart (Apollo 9 astronaut) and Esther Dyson came to the Soviet Union. Of course, they knew nothing about the unique ELAS enterprise, a Soviet technology and leader in special space electronic systems. Sun Microsystems was a leader in technology and innovation at this time. I was a big fan of the company and Sun’s efforts in Internet, SPARC, and UNIX technologies and accepted an invitation to meet with them. I got permission to complete it, and during one of our meetings, I demonstrated 22 22-layer polyamide computer boards. Bill Joy was so impressed that he asked me about his ability to visit my company, ELAS. I called my boss, General Constructor Gennady Guskov, and he agreed to hold such a meeting in our highly classified HQ. It was the beginning of the 90th, and everything was possible.
We demonstrated many interesting things which were unique at this time. Still, our ability to use IP protocol space communication for email communication over satellite, low orbit satellite projects, our on-board computers, and our network on the MIR Space station made a significant impression on Sun Executives and Rusty. How to download the IP protocol through space. The co-founders of Sun and Rusty were impressed by the technology because the Internet had never existed before. Rusty was enthusiastic about the opportunity to jointly create a low-orbit satellite system for digital data communication instead of Iridium voice communication based on voice technology. Considering those years' capabilities, we demonstrated a planned 2 Mbit/sec speed. And we wanted to create a space Internet network. On the other hand, Bill Joy's eyes lit up because there was an opportunity to collaborate and use Sun Microsystems technology and equipment for space digital commination and the ability to bring Sparc/Unix technology to MIR Space station transmission. All this came together into one story and marked the beginning of our relationship.
We kept communication. In March 1991, Guskov and I visited USA for the first time. We participated in the USSR-USA Space exhibition in Washington DC, organized under the leadership of former Director of Space Research Institute of the USSR Academy of Science, academician Ronald Sagdeev. John Gage came to see me and invited me to visit Sun Microsystems in Silicon Valley. I returned to Washington, DC, with academician Chernyavskiy in April to discuss a joint program with the SDI team, “Clean space from space garbage,” using SDI and our technologies. I will not say that the DC trip was enjoyable for me since it was a little spooky, but I was happy when I visited Silicon Valley and Sun Microsystems in April 1991 for the first time. My collaboration and extended time with Sun started!
Later, in December 1991, Sunthey asked if it was possible to create a chip or a prototype in computer board in PCMCIA card size standard that would allow computers to communicate with each other using the 802.11 protocol. And we had to do it in PCMCIA card size.
In October 1992, we produced a prototype and signed a five-year technology collaboration agreement with Sun. Sun Microsystems worked with many partners, including Motorola and other famous groups like Jim Omura, who tried to make this prototype this way. Thus, the 802.11 protocol, later known as Wi-Fi, was implemented in a PCMCIA-compatible device for integrating mobile computers into a wireless network! In March 1993, Sun invested in my company, ELVIS+, and we became the first company to receive money from Sun for the first time in its history. In October 1993, we competed well with Motorola by including PCMCIA in the standard radio and digital part. We even presented our product at the INTEROP 1993 Exhibition. in Paris - 12 computers working on the same local mesh network. This is the effect of shock and movement around this topic. But my team and I were just a group of techies who needed to gain knowledge of sales and marketing. I was very naïve at this time. I remember meeting with VCs at the end of 1992; they sounded very strange to me—a small group of people managing tons of money. Sun was an honest company, a real tech HERO. VC's proposal to match each Sun dollar by their five sounded strange.
In 1994, Jeff_Rulifson, the head of Sun’s advanced technology lab, and I demonstrated this technology to Ericsson in their HQ, the world's leading digital communications company. A new CEO of Ericsson, Lars Ramqvist, the strategist and CEO from 1990 to 1998, has recently been appointed. During this time, HP and Erickson presented the HP 100LX pocket computer with the MobidemTM radio modem to the market. The radio speed was 19.2 kbps. However, Ericsson needed to understand why users required radio communications at speeds of more than a hundred kilobits per second. Then, only text information was transmitted, and no one noticed that there would be video, graphics, and many other applications. No one saw the point in increasing radio speeds for the digital transmission of large files. This was implemented much later. Sun started to lose interest in this project. I met with Lars again in mid-2000, and we discussed the past. Lars told me it was his and Ericsson's mistake not recognizing the coming WiFi revolution in 1994. And we had to leave this project.
At the same time, the Swedish company SAAB, working on military needs, requested to produce a 30K digital radio device walkie-talkie for NATO mobile troops for communication between computers on the battlefield.
There was also a detective story. US security began to wonder if I might start selling this to some terrorists. We stopped the program, and only the patent remained. The exhibit can be found possibly in a few private collections and possibly at the Mountain View Computer History Museum - "World's First Laptop Wi-Fi Module Developed by ELVIS+" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Galitsky
This whole story happened in the early 1990s. The Soviet Union collapsed. Everything started to change. In Russia, I tried to promote the technology; we even tried to install devices on buildings. However, the Russian Ministry of Science saw no value in the technology. And it was clear that I could not promote it and raise the project with my own money.
We tried not to talk about it. However, we received an investment from Sun Microsystems; it was announced with great fanfare in the Valley, and we received a lot of publicity.
On March 17, 1993, our collaboration between Sun Microsystems and Elvis+ was announced. I did not invite a single Russian journalist to the press conference. But a representative of TASS (Russian News Agency), who somehow got there, approached me and asked me the only question: “How much did you sell your homeland for?” That's the whole story.
The wireless transmitter developed by ELVIS+ was in little demand in the market in the early 1990s. Being pioneers, we had to leave the story and were forced to stop the project.
Ultimately, ELVIS+ sold its wireless technology to one of the US government programs.
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