Internet Access Pops Up in Remote Areas

Netrix's micro.pop helps access providers target remote areas

Netrix Corp., the international communications company based in Herndon, Va., claims to have come up with a technology that will let Internet service providers move on to a new tier of customers.

In July, Netrix unveiled micro.pop, which allows companies that sell Internet access to reach remote areas of the country.

Right now, most "pops" or points of presence, basically Internet hubs, are located in big cities. For the past few years, access providers have been building as many pops as possible to create competitive networks.

Although pops, which let users access the Internet through a local call, are now present in most urban areas, smaller towns still must dial long distance -- and pay more -- to get on-line.

"The micro.pop is particularly targeted to benefit areas not served by existing points of presence," said Chuck Stein, president and CEO of Netrix.

"It's the next layer of Internet access," added George Kushin, vice president of marketing for Netrix.

Although networks can be built to reach those areas, it costs about $150,000 for a pop, making it impossible for most Internet service providers to justify the cost, according to Kushin.

Of course, Netrix's solution isn't free either: It costs $65,000. Still, Internet service providers need an edge now more than ever. Analysts have been predicting a shakeout in the Internet service provider world, some of which has already occurred. Competition is heating up as name-brand players such as AT&T get into the market, as well as upstarts such as IDT Corp., Hackensack, N.J., which aims to undercut other companies' prices.

One certainty of the Internet access world now is that providers must have the income from business customers to stay in the game.

"Without business customers, ISPs can't make any money," said Kushin. Those who will come out on top, he said, will have reached the largest amount of business customers.

So far, Netrix has shipped micro.pop to three national Internet service providers who will evaluate the technology.

One of those is America.Net Inc., an Internet service wholesaler, with which Netrix is now forming a partnership, Kushin said. "This is significant because the business user is the key ingredient for ISPs to achieve profitability, especially with the falling prices in the dial-access market," said Robert Saunders, founder of America.Net.

Kushin said Netrix is well-positioned to offer such a product after 10 years of manufacturing and selling the parts -- from packet switches to routers to voice compression technologies -- necessary for network access. "One of the keys to ISP networking is frame relay," said Kushin of a technology that has been a staple of Netrix's offerings.

Micro.pop is only the first of many Internet products on the way from Netrix. About 50 of the 250 total employees of the company work for the Internet division, which shows the emphasis Netrix has placed on the market. Being in the Washington area, which is home to so many Internet and telecom companies, has also helped position Netrix. While the company's Internet effort will start in the United States, Netrix plans to expand its business internationally.

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