The Phoenix, Ariz., firm will officially announce its free service, called WaveTop, for sending Internet data over TV signals next Monday at the National Association of Broadcasters conference in Las Vegas.
'This is a great way to offload the bandwidth burden.'
-- Analyst Jae Kim
"We are proving that the convergence between the TV and the PC is here and now," said Sandy Goldman, vice president and general manager of WavePhore (WAVO).
The new service can be received by any PC with a TV tuner card, the free WaveTop software and access to PBS broadcasting.
A trickle, not a torrent
Rather than send information on demand, the WaveTop service broadcasts Internet content using the space between video frames on a TV broadcast, called the vertical blanking interval, or VBI.
The flow of data resembles a constant trickle. At 28.8Kbps, information drips in at the rate of today's slowest modem. Yet, the connection is constant and delivers about 170MB of content in the regular 17-hour broadcast day.
This eases bandwidth bottlenecks on the Internet, said Jae Kim, an industry analyst at multimedia watcher Paul Kagan Associates.
"This is a great way to offload the bandwidth burden," he said. "There are a lot of people that camp out on their connections -- this would relieve some of that demand."
Content is king
Content on the service is organized into a variety of channels to which a user subscribes, such as news, game demos, stock information and educational content aimed at kids.
"Our service is the only one broadcasting anything useful," said Goldman.
The software provided by the company to the user filters out unwanted content and saves the desired data to disk. By leaving the computer on all day, the user's software will download the needed information
Still, large files will have to be excluded. "A few game demos, and you've used up half your daily bandwidth," said analyst Kim.
Goldman pointed out that a increase, scheduled for the end of the year, should offset that problem. WavePhore intends to double the service's bandwidth -- to 57.6Kbps.
National coverage compelling
WavePhore makes its money from advertising. Perhaps the most compelling aspect of the service is its national coverage. By using PBS for the carrier, the service will be available to almost every home in the United States.
"This is a great way to get a connection into every home," said Kim.
Still, WaveTop is going to be limited by the number of TV tuners in PCs, according to Kim, who added that the percentage of computers with television tuner boards is in the single digits.
"As tuners get put onto every DVD-ROM and graphics card, this problem will go away," Kim said.
Initially, WavePhore will deliver the service in 50 markets accounting for more than 65 percent of the country. By the end of the year, the company expects to have 100 percent coverage.