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Phonex blazing trails in simplifying data movement

Firm honored for devices that ease communication

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The man wanted to put a phone jack in his daughter's bedroom, but he didn't feel like spending $150 to have it professionally installed. He didn't want to wait six weeks, either.

Guy L. Standing, director of sales and marketing, grins as he stands in Phonex Broadband's small showroom and discusses the birth of the Utah company. The man, who Standing doesn't name, decided to do it himself. The copper wiring, he figured, was already in the walls. He just needed to put a signal on it that could be accessed by other devices — in this case, a phone.

Fourteen years later, Phonex Broadband is taking awards for innovative designs that eliminate the need to install wiring in order to network computers or connect audio speakers remotely to the stereo or even to plug a modem into a phone. And the company's plowing new ground in Europe, helping set both technical standards and international policy.

The company can move all kinds of data — voice, audio, video, you name it. It started with the Wireless Phone Jack, which comes in two parts, a base in the wall near the phone that connects to the phone line and a unit that plugs in wherever there's a power outlet and can pull off the phone signal. Presto! You can plug your phone into the electrical outlet.

It's a big seller, though many consumers never figure out they're buying a product from a Utah company. Available in many major stores under well-known brand names like RCA, GE, Radio Shack or Hewlett-Packard, it's a Utah innovation all the same.

Data was the next target, according to John Knab, Phonex chief executive officer and president. The company created Wireless Jack for Modem, using the same principle to connect dial-up modems at speeds up to 56 kbs, again using a power outlet. One of the biggest markets turned out to be the satellite cable dish industry, since few phone jacks are nestled behind TVs.

Phonex Broadband now is the largest manufacturer of products to convey voice and data over the powerline.

The average new home in Utah covers between 1,600 and 1,800 square feet, Standing said. And unless you pay extra and ask specifically, it probably will have only two phone jacks. Phonex Broadband technology overcomes that limitation.

"We're innovative," Standing said. "We have 96 patents and patents pending. At times, we've had to litigate. And we've won."

In June, RCA will release a surge protector with a phone jack by Phonex Broadband. It will sell for about $129. At about the same time, RCA will release a line of wireless speakers that get their signal through the powerline. A speaker with an electrical plug can be plugged into any outlet. In your home theater, it means instant surround sound. Or you can turn on the stereo in the house and take a plug-in-speaker out to the patio while you work in the garden.

The devices all operate at different frequencies so they don't interfere with each other.

Phonex Broadband introduced the first powerline products in Europe and sells products configured for specific countries and their power standards, including the United Kingdom, Australia, Spain and Italy. Sometimes standards have to be created.

"We sit on some (European) regulatory bodies," Standing said. "Safety is an issue. The other is spectrum management and what frequencies" different devices operate on.

Because of construction practices in many other countries, the powerline technology is crucial for people who want to add new devices to their lives. Knab describes a world where "plug and play and walk away" can replace a structure-damaging jack hammer and the use of pipe as conduit.

Phonex Broadband has big plans for America's hunger for broadband, too. The NeverWire 14, due in warehouses in the spring and currently being "strategically" beta tested, recently wowed those attending the Consumer Electronics Show, where it walked away with a "Best of Innovations" award. It's so simple you plug it into the powerline, plug another component into the computer, push a button for security and walk away.

With the day-planner-size device, consumers can connect as many as 16 Ethernet-enabled home electronic devices, from computers and printers to cable modems, set-top boxes and residential gateways, using A/C electrical wiring.

Dale Wettstein, an engineer, demonstrates it by playing a video clip. At the end, he announces the source itself was on a remote machine across the building, connected only by the powerline. The feed is clean, without buffering.

The NeverWire 14 has amazing throughput, while using about 2 MB of bandwidth. It's built with diagnostic lights that show the source of a problem, should one occur, avoiding a "customer service finger-pointing battle" between software and hardware companies.

"The innovation we're bringing to market is simplicity," Knab said.

Networking computers frustrates people. There are so many steps, so much to enable and disable and figure out. The first thing they give up on is security, he said. "It's too hard. If they can get it to work at all, they're happy."

That leaves personal data vulnerable to security breaches. Once customers push the button on the NeverWire 14, they're secure, Knab said.

Security is a particular issue for computer users in multiple-unit dwellings. The NeverWire 14, which will sell for about $129, can overcome that.

More information is available online at www.phonex.com.

E-mail: lois@desnews.com