Urban Media CTO pushes broadband envelope

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Mockapetris co-founded the company with two former colleagues from Internet access service @Home Network. Those colleagues are Sean Doherty, chief executive officer of Urban Media, and Atam Lalchandani, the chief financial officer. @Home merged with Excite last year.

Ironically, Urban Media is getting its start two floors up from the Palo Alto office space that nurtured the early days of @Home, which also promised to deliver broadband to a new set of customers -- but through cable.

In several respects the approaches between the two companies are similar. "At @Home, we were combining the rights to deliver service across a lot of cable companies," Mockapetris says. "Here we are combining the rights to deliver service across a lot of building owners."

Urban Media has already signed up several large property management companies, including Dallas-based Trammell Crow. Urban Media expects to be in 30 markets by the end of the year, company officials say.

As CTO, Mockapetris oversees the development of the company's "fiber-to-the-floor" architecture. Typically, Urban Media brings a T3, a 45Mbps fiber-optic pipe, into a building and splits up the capacity among the tenants' offices.

"People are really starting to apply ASIC and fiber-optic technology to equipment that can go into these [office] spaces, which I think is going to make the prospect of large-scale, widespread broadband a reality," the CTO says.

In the ever-changing world of technology, one of this CTO's most difficult tasks is selecting the right hardware and software to deploy today with an eye on company choices for tomorrow. We have to "make sure we're not building ourselves into obsolescence," he says.

Mockapetris also has had to convince potential investors, venture capitalists, and customers that Urban Media's fiber-optics-oriented strategy makes sense. "A lot of people think [that fiber-optic technology is] most applicable in long-haul carrier backbones and trans-Atlantic cables. [But] all of that technologyy has been relentlessly spreading from the core of the network out to toward the edge. I don't see any reasons why it will slow down."

At the start-up, the CTO reports to the CEO and directly supervises four staff members. In addition, he has some oversight responsibility for the company's Atlanta-based engineering organization.

Mockapetris got to his position the old-fashioned way: He's earned it with impressive credentials, sweat equity, and strong opinions. He has degrees in physics and electrical engineering from MIT and a Ph.D. in information and computer science from the University of California, Irvine. The Internet pioneer also worked on the high-speed LAN DCS Project, acted as program manager for networking on ARPAnet, and served as chairman of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF).

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