Firm paving its own broadband highway

An Internet start-up plans to speed the delivery of broadband digital content by bypassing the Internet altogether.

Paul Festa Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Paul Festa
covers browser development and Web standards.
Paul Festa
3 min read
An Internet start-up is planning to speed the delivery of broadband digital content by bypassing the Internet altogether.

Geocast Network Systems, located in Menlo Park, California, is creating a consumer device that will receive a digital broadcast signal for video, software downloads, and other digital content, the nascent firm told CNET News.com. The system will deliver content to computers, as opposed to television sets or other devices, and it will operate as a complement to the user's Internet connection.

"The big problem with the Internet is that nobody can provide really rich data," said Jon Mittelhauser, manager of software products for Geocast. "For example, the end user can't get full-stream video."

Mittelhauser acknowledged that high-speed cable modems and technologies such as digital subscriber lines (DSL) solve part of the Internet's bandwidth problem by speeding the transfer of data to the client. But he said Geocast would address the other side of the broadband coin, which is that data currently still has to travel from servers over a network not designed for such large digital payloads.

Mittelhauser declined to specify by what means Geocast will broadcast information to its consumer device. But he did say it would involve partnerships with other companies, suggesting that Geocast will piggyback on existing broadcast infrastructures rather than build its own.

Geocast will offer a broadcast product, which resembles the television and radio model in that single broadcasts are sent out to multiple users at set times.

Another broadcast technology in use primarily over corporate intranets is known as "multicasting." Streaming Internet content, by contrast, requires individual connections between client and server and is available on demand.

Geocast also is different from wireless Net access via satellite. For one, Geocast is offering the broadcast itself but will partner with another provider for the signal. In addition, Geocast doesn't use the Internet as a transmission medium.

Geocast's software and hardware products are being designed by former employees of Netscape Communications, Cyrix, and Intel. The class of ex-Netscape Geocast employees numbers 13, including Mittelhauser, making Geocast part of a trend of new firms built by former employees of Web pioneers such as Netscape.

The effect of so many Netscape veterans may have something to do with Geocast's contribution this week of a database to Netscape's independent Mozilla.org group, an open-source development effort for Netscape's Communicator client code.

Geocast's chief executive is Joseph Horowitz, a ten-year veteran of U.S. Venture Partners. The firm's chief operating officer is Alan Nichols, who in May left his post as executive vice president of Chronicle Publishing to join the start-up.

Also on board is former National Association of Broadcasters vice president John Abel, who may be able to bring Geocast close ties to conventional broadcast companies.

Mittelhauser declined to detail Geocast's business model, though he hinted that content portals such as Broadcast.com provide one possible model. He did not say whether Geocast would charge for its hardware.

The start-up is funded by venture capital firms Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, the Mayfield Fund, and Institutional Venture Partners.

Geocast plans to launch its service and device next year.

News.com's John Borland and Corey Grice contributed to this report.