Carrier customers add up for Sigma Networks

Start-up integrator Sigma Networks announces that it has added America Online and Cable & Wireless among others as the first customers for its intra-city network services.

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Start-up integrator Sigma Networks will announce Wednesday that it has added America Online and Cable & Wireless among others as the first customers for its intra-city network services.

In addition to AOL and Cable & Wireless, Enron, Telia Internet, Equinix, Covad Communications, PSINet, Universal Access, 360networks and Broadwing have signed agreements to use Sigma's services.

Sigma, which last week announced a massive $435 million first-round of funding, connects several long-distance backbone networks with local metro networks, thus allowing its carrier and Internet service provider customers to link to each other and trade traffic. Sigma calls the service MAIN, or Metropolitan Area Interconnection Network.

The company began offering service in Washington D.C. earlier this month and will activate a metro network in San Francisco by mid-year.

Dozens of high-capacity coast-to-coast networks have been built in recent years, but the nation's largest cities suffer from a lack of network bandwidth. Most of the long-haul carriers are rushing to build smaller metropolitan area networks to serve as the on- and off-ramps for their long-distance communications "highways." But the construction is slow and costly and carriers cannot simultaneously build networks in every major U.S. city.

Sigma says it aims to capitalize by leasing local fiber-optic lines in major cities, then tying together multiple long-haul networks and selling capacity and the ability to link other carriers to its customers.

Sigma intends to provide these local network connections for carriers, who in turn sell them to business customers, much faster than they were previously available.

"We're an independent or neutral provider of interconnection networks, which means anybody can connect to us and we connect to anybody," said Sigma Chief Executive John Peters.

Sigma boasts an impressive list of investors including Loudcloud founder and former Netscape executive Marc Andreessen, Cisco Systems, Benchmark Capital, Oak Investment Partners, Salomon Smith Barney, Charter Growth Capital, Frontenac, Epoch Partners, Comdisco, Technology Crossover Ventures and Sand Hill Partners.

Andreessen and former Federal Communications Commission chairman Reed Hundt sit on the Sigma board of directors.

Other metropolitan area service providers such as Yipes Communications, Telseon, GiantLoop and Intellispace also have snared large sums of money in recent months.