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National Academy of Inventors Honors Prof. Oliver Ibe

Engineering Professor Recognized for his Discoveries, Research and Innovation

Prof. Oliver Ibe Photo by Edwin L. Aguirre
Prof. Oliver C. Ibe

By Edwin L. Aguirre

Prof. Oliver C. Ibe of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering has been named a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI) for having “demonstrated a prolific spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on quality of life, economic development and welfare of society.”

Ibe’s research has led to improvements in cellular phone networks, particularly in making roaming calls between local and cellular carriers possible and managing network resources more efficiently.

His career in the field of telecommunications technology spans nearly four decades, having spent years with industry in various capacities and as a consultant. He currently holds 10 patents, all of which have been licensed. He has also authored, co-authored or contributed to 16 books on telecommunications and computer network technologies and applied probability, and has written more than 50 journal and conference papers.

Ibe will be inducted along with 154 other NAI fellows from across the country on April 5 as part of the organization’s seventh annual conference, which will be held in Washington, D.C. He joins the ranks of Emeritus Prof. Joseph Salamone and Prof. Rudy Faust in the Department of Chemistry, who were inducted into the National Academy of Inventors in 2013 and 2015, respectively.

“I consider it a great honor to be listed among the country’s foremost innovators and inventors,” says Ibe, who joined UMass Lowell in 2003.

“Prof. Ibe is clearly deserving of fellow status in the NAI,” says Joseph Hartman, dean of the Francis College of Engineering. “He has solved complex problems in the telecommunications industry and moved those solutions through patenting and the implementation process. Now, as a faculty member at UMass Lowell, he is teaching students to follow his path – inventing new solutions for a better future.”

Ibe says more than 90 percent of NAI fellows are from the chemical, biomedical and health sciences fields, where their patents often lead to the immediate development of pharmaceutical drugs. 

“There are very few NAI fellows from the traditional engineering disciplines, because the social/community benefits of our inventions are not as easily assessed as those of our colleagues in the biomedical sciences. This is what makes my election a special event and a source of joy to me. I am grateful to Dean Hartman for nominating me to be accorded this honor,” he says.

A Lifetime of Achievements

Two of Ibe’s patents addressed fundamental challenges in the telecommunications industry and have resulted in advances with everyday implications. One of them targeted the lack of infrastructure (at the time of invention) between local and cellular carrier networks that would allow calls to switch from one system to the other in what is now called “hierarchical handoff.” Ibe developed a method that allows for seamless roaming between wireless local area networks and cellular carrier networks in which the connection switches from one technology to the other. The result of this work is a more streamlined calling experience.

Another patent addressed what is known as an NP-complete problem that deals with graph partitioning. He invented a method for automatically partitioning node-weighted, edge-constrained graphs, an invention that led to the development of a more efficient method of partitioning telecommunication networks, resulting in better management of network resources. 

Ibe grew up in Nigeria and is a member of the Ibo ethnic group of the southeastern part of the country. His father, an ardent believer in the value of education, worked hard to ensure that he got the best schooling possible. Ibe attended the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where he majored in electrical engineering and graduated at the top of his class in 1975. 

Ibe came to the U.S. in 1977 as a graduate student at MIT, where he received a master’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science in 1979 and a doctorate in electrical engineering in 1981. Additionally, he earned an MBA from Northeastern University in 1980. Ibe and his wife of 40 years, Christie, live in Andover, Mass. They have four grown children.

Ibe is a fellow of the African Academy of Sciences and a lifetime senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).