“Genius entrepreneur” is one of those shopworn clichéd phrases bandied about in the high-tech world, typically trumpeted by well-oiled public relations machines in reference to their crazily ambitious but decidedly non-genius clients, the purported masters of imminent, world-changing innovation.
So, for my inaugural blog entry, I thought I’d confound everyone by interviewing a real, bona fide “genius entrepreneur” who, moreover, is both self-effacing and unknown to most readers — Brough Turner. “Brough” is pronounced like “rough.” That, by the way, is not an allusion to his personality — he’s the most amiable fellow you’d ever want to meet.
And for any tech expo-and-conference attendee who has seen him in action at an after-hours party, Turner holds the unofficial title of Telecom Industry’s Best Dancer. I’ve known him for nearly 20 years.
MIT grad Turner co-founded Natural Microsystems in 1983 (renamed NMS Communications in 2001), where, among other things, he invented the multi-vendor integration protocol (MVIP), a high-bandwidth, multiplexed digital telephony "highway" allowing telephony boards plugged into a PC to share data, signaling information, and switching information.
This enabled hundreds of phone lines to be plugged into racks of computers loaded with such boards, thus forming a single system that could handle a huge number of phone calls for various applications: call centers, fax blasts, large-scale advanced phone systems, interactive voice response (“press 1 for accounting, press 0 for the operator . . .”) and so forth.
These days, Turner’s latest startup is netBlazr, a radically new kind of company that provides secure high-speed wireless broadband service in downtown Boston. Businesses install two or three radio devices and connect them to a mini-router on the rooftop to experience netBlazr Internet connections from 15 to 100 megabits per second (Mbps).
To receive netBlazr’s premium service at a fraction of current market rates, you can set up dedicated point-to-point links that range from 50 to 500 Mbps, and those fortunate folk in a position to access the netBlazr fiber backhaul network can enjoy bandwidths of from 100 Mbps to 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps), with upload speeds as fast as downloads.
A new residential Internet service uses a single radio and easily streams multiple HD videos — the perfect solution for “cord cutters.”
Brough Turner recently granted Yours Truly an interview.
Grigonis: I guess it would be fair to say that you’ve evolved in lockstep with the telecom industry?
Turner: I started out in computer telephony — computer intelligence applied to circuit-switched phone calls — in the 1980s, became really interested in the Internet in the early 1990s and voice-over-IP — Internet telephony — since 1996. I was heavily involved in mobile communications from 2002 through 2009. I used to do a lot with mobile phone services in Asia and Africa. I still follow what’s happening there, but I no longer participate.
At NMS we developed the AccessGate product line, a radio access network optimization system that enables wireless carriers to cut operating costs for leased line, microwave and satellite back haul, as well as rapidly expand their mobile wireless networks. (The AccessGate division was sold to Verso Technologies in 2007 to boost its cellular back haul business). I also piloted a development group into ring back tone services that led to what is now Livewire Mobile.
My new company, netBlazr, is unlike every other business I’ve started. The others were products companies; netBlazr is a services business, a fixed wireless services provider. But I’m also working on a new products business in the background, complimentary to netBlazr. We’re working on new products that could revolutionize the delivery of broadband wireless access.
I’ve also been speaking publicly about the phone-cable duopoly in the U.S. since the early 2000s. I remember giving a keynote address at Jeff Pulver’s Voice on the Net (VON) show in April 2003. And I’ve been writing about broadband access and broadband politics for over 10 years, so in 2010 I started a company to try and address it.
Note: This concludes Part 1. In Part 2 of our conversation, Brough and yours truly will talk about the absurdly inflated prices for broadband access to the Internet in America and how the problem can be alleviated by taking a cue from what’s happening in other countries.
Richard Grigonis is an internationally known technology editor and writer. Read more reports from Richard Grigonis — Click Here Now.
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