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WavePhore, Others, Test Out Data Broadcasting

December 1, 1995

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) _ Data broadcasting, used for more than a decade to provide closed captions to TVs for the hearing-impaired, may soon deliver far more information and software to consumers.

The concept captured headlines this fall when a group of 13 companies led by computer chipmaker Intel Corp. and NBC announced plans for Internet and other data to be available by next summer.

But a local company, WavePhore Inc., has been experimenting with the concept since 1991 and has forged alliances in Mexico and Canada that may also become significant.

The Intel-NBC group plans to send data in a portion of the television signal called the ``vertical blanking interval,″ that black bar seen when a TV picture starts to roll vertically.

WavePhore, meanwhile, will use the blanking interval and the active part of the TV signal, potentially allowing it to send more data at once. The company hasn’t received federal regulatory permission to go ahead with deployment, although it is conducting some experiments in Arizona.

Consumers would need to have $300 decoder to separates the data from the broadcast signal and use it with a PC.

``Our footprint is really virtually every place in the world because every place in the world there’s some kind of signal,″ said David Deeds, chief executive officer. ``Since we’re piggybacking on an existing infrastructure, we don’t have to wait for the five to 10 years for it to be built.″

Intel, which is interested in most any technology that may drive future sales of PCs, has taken a stake in WavePhore and licensed its technology.

In March, WavePhore teamed up with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to supply and operate the datacasting system which is capable of reaching most of Canada’s population. And in August, WavePhore sold Television Azteca in Mexico City a system that will insert advertisements over the broadcast signals through its 195 stations around Mexico.

Information is transmitted by broadcasters through a device the size of a videocassette recorder. The encoder reads the information and inserts it into the broadcast signal.

In national laboratory testing last year, WavePhore failed to get the information across without broadcast interference, said Rick Lehtinen, a senior analyst with the multimedia group In-Stat, based in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Since then, WavePhore made some changes to the product and is ready for another round of testing, said Glenn Williamson, WavePhore chief operating officer. The company has resumed tests.

Digideck, based in Menlo Park, Calif., has tested similar technology. But Digideck President Brit Conner said his company isn’t actively marketing it yet.

``Everyone who requires data to be delivered to them on a continuous streaming basis could be a candidate for using this type of technology,″ Lehtinen said. ``It represents potentially a whole lot of business.″

Datacasting can be used with satellite, cable and microwave systems in addition to standard television signals.

That’s already presenting more competitive pressure for firms like WavePhore. For instance, Hughes Network Systems, a driver of the direct TV satellite service that’s become popular during the last 18 months, has plans to provide Internet and other data connections to homes via satellite.

In addition, telephone companies eager to increase the signal-carrying capacity they provide to consumers are exploring so-called ``wireless cable″ systems, which rely on microwave transmissions for TV and other data signals.