Techniques: Microcases

Problem: The World Wide Wait syndrome
Solution: Novel digital-modem technology
Payoff: Continuous, affordable Internet access

Just as brides-to-be would be unlikely to purchase a wedding dress on-line, Ron Ben-Israel concedes that customers of his elegant, high-end wedding cakes would hesitate to order his costly confections over the Internet. But that didn't stop the master chef from installing his own Web site,, within a year of establishing his New York City business, Ron Ben-Israel Cakes, in 1995. "Even though I wouldn't be engaging in electronic commerce, I immediately got excited by the Web," Ben-Israel recalls.

In between cake-baking tasks, Ben-Israel updates his Web site with both still images and video clips of his latest creations (Martha Stewart presenting one of his cakes on the Oprah Winfrey Show, for example). The chef also uses the Web to exchange E-mail with pastry chefs around the globe, to reorder supplies, and to research unusual cake ideas. (For hotel magnate Leona Helmsley's birthday last summer, he had to construct a 16-layer replica of the Helmsley building.)

With his standard analog dial-up modem (36Kb), "these day-to-day tasks were taking an hour each," says Ben-Israel. Knowing he needed faster access, he began researching his options. But as the owner of a small business, he was dismayed by the high cost (up to $700 a month) and the complexity of alternatives like T1 or ISDN lines. Then, "through other nerds," Ben-Israel heard about Prism Communications' RED Service (888-RED-2000)--a new digital-modem service that provides continuous, rapid Internet access using traditional (copper) telephone wires--for a fixed monthly fee ranging from $199 for a single PC to $399 for a network of up to six seats.

The RED Service is able to turn a customer's plain old telephone service (POTS in telecom argot) into a souped-up continuous Internet connection with breathtakingly fast download speeds (up to 1Mb per second, which is about 17 times faster than a 56Kb modem and 8 times faster than a dual-channel ISDN line) thanks to novel digital-modem technology from Nortel Networks. The system takes advantage of unused frequencies on the copper wires and fills them with far more data than would ordinarily travel through a phone line.

Though Ben-Israel's copper lines needed some adjustment by the local phone company (for which he waited three weeks), RED Service hookup is usually simple: plug a Nortel Networks 1-Meg digital modem into an existing phone jack and install an Ethernet card into a PC. (Networks may require a router as well--RED Service uses Cisco Systems' 1605-R.) "Once my copper lines were in place, getting the RED Service up and running took five minutes," recalls Ben-Israel, who started his service last June. Although the RED Service is now available only in Manhattan, the company's network will extend up and down the Eastern seaboard by the fourth quarter of this year.

The cake baker says that though it's too early to quantify the financial payoff from using the RED Service, he definitely has more time to be creative and to accept challenges that he otherwise might have avoided. "It all comes down to speed," says the chef, who confesses that he's so spoiled now that "there's no way I'd use the Net if I had to go back to using a regular modem."