A new technology promises to rev up an old wire.

By BUILDER Magazine Staff

Last month we predicted that builders would soon have no option but to run fiber optic cabling to every home in a development. Now a Westford, Mass., company wants to prove us wrong.

The issue is bandwidth, or how fast data travels, measured in megabits per second (mbs). Bandwidth is related to frequency: the wider the range of available transmission frequencies, the greater the bandwidth. (Data is like water. You can pour it faster through a big hole than through a little one.) Mark Heslop, director of corporate marketing for Narad Networks (www.naradnetworks.com), says the company's new Virtual Fiber technology will use standard coaxial cable to carry data, but at bandwidths much higher than today's cable modems or DSL lines. That's because Narad's new technology exploits a huge band of frequencies that have always been inaccessible over coax. While cable modem and cable TV signals top off at 860 megahertz, Narad will use frequencies from 860 megahertz up to 2.5 gigahertz.

Heslop says that although cable modems have a theoretical bandwidth of 37 mbs, customers really get a fraction of that. By using the higher frequencies, Virtual Fiber provides 100 mbs both ways. And while that's one-fifth to one-sixth the bandwidth of fiber-to-the-home, the fact that it's more than enough for voice and video could make it a viable alternative to fiber, at a much lower cost.

Will high-bandwidth coax lure builders away from fiber?
Will high-bandwidth coax lure builders away from fiber?

In fact, Narad believes its technology is good enough to compete with fiber on price. "We take the bandwidth issue off the table," says Heslop. And the company is betting that the infrastructure savings will prompt builders to partner with local cable companies to offer the technology. Narad is starting beta trials with cable providers this month and hopes to have a commercial product sometime next year.