Now, High Tech Data Can Cruise On Low Tech Copper Wire

One hang-up clouding the future of the proposed Information Superhighway is the cost of running connections into American homes. It will take around $1,500 per residence to replace copper telephone wires with the optic-fiber links needed to handle the huge volume of data that will flow over the network. But that rewiring may not be necessary after all.

A breakthrough in compressing digital data, just unveiled by Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J., boosts the capacity of copper wires by 16 times, or enough to handle interactive-television signals. There are rival data-compression techniques, but what's unique about this one is that signals can travel more than two miles through "noisy" copper wires. With other methods, the signal becomes unintelligible within 100 yards. That's not enough to link many residences to a fiber trunk line. The new method's secret--a way of filtering out noise when decompressing the signal--was invented by Elliot L. Gruenberg, a retired engineer. He founded Digital Compression Technology LP and in 1992 moved into an "incubator" for startup companies at Stevens.

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