A Wind of Change for the Last Mile


Exploiting promotional opportunities is the sign of a
clever entrepreneur. Hence, the audacity of a high-tech start-up proclaiming that it has
the solution to the AT&T/TCI last-mile problem is eye-catching.

In its well-timed, albeit obscure, Web-posted announcement,
Khamsin Technologies of suburban San Diego not only piggybacks its dreams to the
AT&T/TCI merger announcement, but it also offers its as-yet-untested
"composite-cable" technology for "significant two-way bandwidth" that
will last 100 years.

Not bad grandstanding for a small band of fiber optic
technologists who are still a year away from field tests and who admit that they have not
yet spoken to AT&T.

Khamsin's composite cable -- which was developed by
its technology provider, New World Paradigm Ltd. -- can handle 622-megabit-per-second
connections in both directions. That is four times the speed of the Internet backbone, and
62 times faster than 10-mbps cable modems.

The last-mile strand includes fiber optic lines embedded
with electrical conductors made of "special materials," which Khamsin and New
World decline to describe until patents are issued. They claim that their special material
will last 100 years, meaning that future upgrades will not require the capital and labor
expense of rewiring the last mile to handle service improvements, according to Khamsin
president John Taylor.

The system uses a technology that combines
synchronous-digital-hierarchy-based optical transmission with electrical distribution, and
it will be compatible with all types of existing networks, explains Dr. Mitchell Cotter,
CEO and chief scientific officer at Arlington, Va.-based New World. He repeatedly notes
that the new materials and processes are "highly proprietary."

The dual 622-mbps system provides that high-speed
connection both downstream and upstream, effectively handling more than 1 gigabit of
simultaneous capacity. The system includes a switch at the home or business location for
routing signals to the appropriate device. The "always-on" feature means that
the system has no dialtones and no busy signals.

Taylor and Cotter emphasize that their high-speed,
multipurpose connections will offer one-wire capability by simultaneously carrying a
half-dozen voice lines, video and always-on Internet connections. The vast bandwidth would
easily haul video-on-demand, high-definition digital TV, wideband Internet content and
videophony, as well as conventional voice circuits. It could also transmit
energy-management and monitoring services, which is why Khamsin says it is talking to
community-owned utility cooperatives, such as ones in Palo Alto and Anaheim, Calif. Cotter
notes that new electric-signal-propagation techniques make wideband performance possible
without installing fiber to the home.

Khamsin and New World techies hint that they have begun
conversations with potential cable and telco allies, but they offer few details about
their "continuously active-path" technology.

Although Taylor admits that the composite cable will
initially cost 25 percent to 33 percent more than conventional coaxial lines, he insists
that the technology will pay for itself. Taylor says he is negotiating with existing
fabricators (also unidentified) to manufacture the cables. Khamsin (the name was derived
from an Arabic term for "wind of change") will market and license the

The home market is the holy grail for Khamsin's plan,
but the initial rollout is expected to be conducted in business parks, where composite
cable can be used for high-speed-data access, as well as phone and TV service. The
companies have spent more than five years "solving the last-mile bandwidth problem,
which has been a struggle for the Baby Bells and other telecommunications companies,"
Cotter says.

Privately funded, the companies plan to begin lab tests of
their composite cable by early 1999 and limited field rollouts by midyear.
Uncharacteristic of high-tech ventures, this one appears to be run by grown-ups: Cotter
admits to working on fiber optics as far back as "the late 1950s."

Cotter and Taylor pepper their comments with disdain for
the telcos' current approach to upgrading the local loop. With bravado and big
ambitions, they emphasize that digital-subscriber-line technologies are "designed to
shore up the infirmities of the local loop."

"Even though the copper loop cannot provide broadband
services to the American economy, the coming deployment of DSL is premised on the mistaken
notion that there is no better economic and technical alternative to the ancient
loop," according to the invective on Khamsin's Web site. "Therefore,
deploying DSL will lock the country into outdated and costly stems, which will have to be

Those are fighting words -- and not very salesmanlike --
for a start-up that is trying to sell an entirely new product into the communications

But it may just be the kind of revolutionary thinking that
truly changes the composition of the last-mile infrastructure.

I-Way Patrol columnist Gary Arlen has long awaited
composite materials in telecommunications facilities, and not just in sports equipment and