Monday, June 10, 2002


There's a good John Markoff piece in today's New York Times about a company called Etherlinx, which has a plan to bring high speed Internet access to your home. The key paragraphs are worth repeating here:

At the core of their plan is the inexpensive wireless data standard known as Wi-Fi or 802.11b, which is already shaking up the communications industry, threatening to undermine the business plans of cellular phone companies by offering a much cheaper method for mobile access to the Internet., known as Etherlinx, has taken the 802.11b standard and used it to build a system that can transmit Internet data up to 20 miles at high speeds -- enough to blanket entire urban regions and make cable or D.S.L. connections obsolete.

Their secret weapon is a technology known as a "software-designed radio," which has permitted them to create an inexpensive repeater antenna that can be attached to the outside of a customer's home. The device, which the Etherlinx executives said they believe can be built in quantity for less than $150 each, would communicate with a central antenna and then convert the signals into the industry-standard Wi-Fi, or wireless fidelity, signal for reception inside the home.

This is great news and one hopes that electric utilities are paying attention. Because it is the Edisons of America who can make Etherlinx technology a consumer reality. It is not in the interest of the Regional Bell Operating Companies (RBOCs) to make WiFi ubiquitous. WiFi undermines their business model. It is not in the interest of cable television companies to make WiFi ubiquitous, although WiFi doesn't threaten cable television systems as directly as it does traditional land-line telephony.

It is in the interests of the Edisons to make WiFi ubiquitous, since it theoretically might enable them to become the only wire line provider into 100 million American homes. Edison WiFi could provide wireless telephony and video service over its fully-built-out WiFi network, while continuing to supply electricity over its already fully-built-out electrical network. That would be, as the say in business school, a position of strong competitive advantage. And at least during the ramp up, consumers would be the major beneficiaries.