Broadband through Gas, Seriously


For starters, guys I would like to say, that I am not making this up. A San Diego-start-up, Nethercomm Corp., which has no trial partners or no known venture capital backers, is promising that it can deliver up to 10 gigabits per second broadband using natural gas pipelines.

The idea here is to encode the broadband signals using ultra wideband and beam them through the pipeline, and then at the gas meter, the signal is offloaded (using Nethercomm equipment off course) to on-the-premise wireline or wireless networks. The company, which lists Patrick and Ann Munally as co-founders, thinks this is a neat work around the current restrictions on the UWB for now. Since the wireless transmitters are in the pipeline, it is a closed environment. The company explains that its technology needs no modifications to the existing natural gas distribution infrastructures.

Still, I find the whole concept a little baffling. The biggest concern is UWB itself. I understand this as a short-range technology, which can deliver great speeds. Here is what wikipedia has to say about UWB.

Ultra-wideband or UWB is a developing communication technology that delivers very high-speed network data exchange rates across relatively short distances with a low power source. Although the connection speed decreases quickly as a function of distance, UWB has the potential to replace the cables that currently connect devices.

If that is the case, then it means that a substantial number of UWB modules would need to embedded in a pipeline, and that could make the project a tad expensive. In other words, it would need some serious dollar commitment from gas companies. For instance installing the hardware inside the pipes would entail shutting off gas supplies. That alone could be a cost prohibitive affair. In addition, the energy companies are still recovering from their ill-conceived affair with fiber and broadband networks, led by the king-con of them all, Enron. Ann Nunally, President and COO of the San Diego-based Nethercomm Corporation in a press statement was quick to say, that they “have been extremely tight-lipped about this innovation until our Patent Portfolio foundation was completely in place.”

Having said that, energy and gas companies use wireless sensors for meter readings and monitoring the health of the pipelines.

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I’ve read all of the comments posted here and I think you guys had better take a better look at this. These guys as of 1/2006 have a working system installed in San Diego, funding from Motorola and are broadcasting TimeWarner, DirectTV and Cox television services simultaneously through a single Sempra gas pipeline. I don’t know where they are going next with this thing but I believe that this technology could actually pose a real threat to cable television.


I question the quality of gas pipes as waveguides, but except for plastic they’d at least keep the signal isolated. As for installation, there’s a method for adding a tap to a gas line without shutting it down which could probably be adapted for making a feed.


Om, please don’t tell me you’re taking that site seriously. That whole thing has to be a gag. Even the people on the “About Us” page look like they’ve been photoshopped off a royalty-free JPEG CD-ROM.

Om Malik


thanks for reminding me of cell on a blimp. i was read the biography of craig mccaw and it came up in that. i thought it was a bit of a joke, but not really. people do come up with doozies

Jesse Kopelman

I think the idea is that the pipe would act as a wave guide, so range would be better than you might think. That said, this is the sort of idea that will not come to fruition any time soon despite (maybe) being technically feasible. File it with that old favorite of mine, Cell on Blimp. Oh the fun we had, before the zoning hearings for a new tower, chanting cell on blimp, cell on blimp, back in the day. You had to be there . . .

Sean ONeil

Having worked at a natural gas companyat one point in my life, it was my understanding the alot of the gas lines from the curb to the customer premisis are PVC, I’m guessing its a little tough to send UWB through PVC ;-)

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