Urban Media CTO Pushes Broadband Envelope

SAN MATEO (06/05/2000) - When it comes to data, Paul Mockapetris has a need for speed. Best known as a creator of DNS (Domain Name System), Mockapetris has spent his professional life pushing the envelope in technologies that hasten the delivery of information.

So it is only fitting that now, as CTO of Urban Media, he spends his working hours devising ways to deliver broadband to small and midsize businesses for free.

Urban Media is taking the classic loss leader approach to business. The idea is that, once customers have whet their Internet appetite on the free 200Kbps access Urban Media serves to each desktop, they will be hungry for additional goodies from the on-site service provider.

"By giving away basic service, we believe we are tripling the market," Mockapetris says. "We may be crazy, but we're hoping we're crazy like a fox."

The Palo Alto, California, company's menu of pay services includes local and long-distance voice, managed e-mail, videoconferencing, and VPNs. Through partners, the company offers a grab bag of business services including travel arrangements, office equipment and supplies, insurance, payroll, and accounting.

Of course, along with a handful of competitors, Urban Media faces critics who question whether the giveaway will make dollars and sense.

That's just fine with Mockapetris. The 52-year-old is attracted to enterprises that buck conventional wisdom. "It's always been my philosophy that the absolute best place to be is in a business you believe works but one where other people are skeptical," he says.

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. At Home Corp. merged with Excite Inc. last year.

Ironically, Urban Media is getting its start two floors up from the Palo Alto office space that nurtured the early days of At Home Corp., 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 technology 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).

While serving as a director at the University of Southern California's Information Sciences Institute, Mockapetris takes credit for being the first to implement the SMTP mail protocol.

The technologist is most noted as a creator of DNS. Although he no longer has an official hand in its development, he is pushing for an evolution that would make it easy for non-English speakers to use the Internet.

"People have been slow to do innovation to try and support [internationalization] because they are protecting a legacy. I just see internationalization as an imperative, rather than something that we should be trying to do without jeopardizing the installed base," he says.

Like some other tech pioneers, Mockapetris has tended to join companies in the start-up phase, bowing out after the companies became established. In addition to working at @Home, he was CTO for messaging company Software.com Inc. and a founder of fiber-optic equipment maker Fiberlane, which eventually split and became Siara Systems and Cerent (later acquired by Redback Networks Inc. and Cisco Systems, respectively).

Mockapetris hasn't always been dying to drive in the fast lane, though. When his first child was due, he tried ditching the hectic pace of Silicon Valley.

But he couldn't resist the start-up siren call. This time, it was Fiberlane, in Santa Barbara.

"When [my wife] heard me saying 'this really is an opportunity to change the world' she knew we were moving," he says.

Later, after moving back to Silicon Valley, Mockapetris and his wife added twin boys to the family. "Nowadays, I think going to work is where things are more relaxed," he jokes.

When it comes to technology, though, Urban Media's CTO is in a hurry. "I love to talk to people about far-out technology and try and get them to move it from: 'oh, we are promising that for Q4 of 2000' into 'I can get [you] prototypes tomorrow.'"Paul Mockapetris, Urban MediaJob title: Co-founder and CTOReports to: CEOMission: To create a network architecture to reach growing companies outside the central business districtEducation: Degrees in physics and electrical engineering from MIT; Ph.D. in information and computer science from the University of California, IrvineCareer highlights: In 1995 co-founded @Home; worked on the DCS Project and conducted much of the research toward the nascent Internet through the government-funded ARPAnet, where he served as program manager for networkingMentors: David Farber, FCC chief technologist; Robert Kahn, co-inventor of TCP/IP; Sean Doherty, Urban Media CEO; Atam Lalchandani, Urban Media CFOFavorite Web sites: http://edgar.space.invisible.net and www.lightreading.comFavorite escape: Wine tasting, tennis

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