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About 20 years ago, Dave Waks was one of the founders of Prodigy, the NAPLPS-based online service that tried to give the online world graphics a decade before the Web was spun.
For those wondering what happened to this pioneer, have no worries. Dave is married a very nice former-AT&T executive, Sandy Teger, and now they work together, writing and pontificating about home gateways.
Since I just happen to be thinking a lot about gateways right now, I got a chance to talk with them.
Their biggest problem, as with most wireless LAN devices for the home, is that the power amplifiers aren't set high enough so that your signal can reach the corners of the house, he said. "You think you can operate anywhere. It often falls down."
And this is not an antenna problem. You couldn't fix it if it were, he warns. "It’s illegal to install an after-market antenna. And even those antennas provide very little gain compared to having the right power amplifier."
Generally, Dave and Sandy (in the name of equal time that's her to the right) think that cable operators remain ahead of phone companies in this area, because they have a set of standards called CableHome that specifies what a gateway does, thus they get the best mass production prices for their customers. (Dave and Sandy get cable broadband -- DSL doesn't reach them yet.)
Not only that, but cable modems run faster than DSL lines, and the industry has a strategy to cripple the phone companies, Dave added. "Cable will roll out Voice Over IP very big this year," he said, and in five years could take 30-40% of residential phone lines out of action.
In the end I couldn't help admiring both of them. Their own house is a testbed for all sorts of neat stuff, they get to work and travel together, the kids are grown, and they'll let you subscribe to their online newsletter about the broadband home free -- just for reading this blog. (Actually that last is a lie -- you can get it free even if you don't read this blog.)
If I sound jealous, it's because I am. Glad I was able to return their favor with a little news they didn't know. If they watch Mexican soccer matches on cable some weekend, they will find many of the stadia filled with sideboards advertising Prodigy -- the name is gone here but (since the company was bought by a Mexican entrepreneur before being sold to SBC) it's still a big ISP there.