Optelecom, HydraLite become partnersOptelecom Inc. of Gaithers...


Optelecom, HydraLite become partners

Optelecom Inc. of Gaithers burg has staked a claim in the multimedia gold rush. A new partnership with HydraLite Inc. of Pennsylvania will develop fiber-optic systems for the cable television market.

The deal indirectly links Optelecom with General Instrument Inc., a powerful force in the cable TV industry; HydraLite's president developed its technology while with a General Instrument subsidiary, and the two companies maintain licensing and marketing agreements.

Optelecom has taken an equity position in HydraLite and will provide management assistance and production facilities. According to Dr. William H. Culver, Optelecom's chairman, HydraLite specializes in equipment such as lasers, modulators and amplifiers used to send data through fiber cables at very high rates. The equipment would be used to send data across the country and to the neighborhood level, but not into homes.

Ultimately, the combination of fiber optics and data compression is expected to expand the capacity of cable systems to 50,000 channels.

Dr. Culver explains that while many fiber-optic systems carry the output of a single electronic circuit, the new technology lets a single, hair-thin cable carry many signals simultaneously, with each one being piggybacked on a different frequency of light.

The General Instrument subsidiary, Jerrold Communica tions, has joined with Intel Corp. and Microsoft Corp. to develop a home cable decoder that will be based on Windows software.

In the long run, Dr. Culver said, the new venture could become a very significant portion of Optelecom's business.

NISC aims to expand beyond technical focus

Fred Durr formed National Information Services Corp. (NISC) five years ago with personal savings, a few credit cards and a passion for the environment. Now his thriving data base business on St. Paul Street is about to hire its ninth employee and has customers from pole to pole.

When Mr. Durr decided to publish data bases on CD-ROM, he cast about for likely material. "I could ill afford many of the big data bases . . . so I was left with what i could turn up around the fringes. There are lots of good quality data bases available if you know where to look."

His interest in earth sciences led him to a variety of government and research data bases from around the world. He began accumulating "files in all kinds of sizes and shapes and formats" and packaging them in CD-ROM titles like Natural Resources Metabase and Fish & Fisheries Worldwide.

NISC's list of about 32 titles finds buyers among research institutions, special libraries and government agencies. The best sellers are the two volumes of Water Resources Abstracts; the second, for example, offers semiannual updates at $595 per year.

"The National Science Foundation buys disks on the Arctic and Antarctic to put in the polar stations," Mr. Durr said, "so our disks are from one end of the Earth to the other."

The 34-year-old Baltimore native, a Johns Hopkins University graduate in philosophy, has plans to expand NISC beyond a narrow technical focus. It's creating a disk on women's studies, drawn from a variety of international sources. But an attempt to release two mass-market disks of speakers' jokes and the like was unsatisfying, and unlikely to be repeated.

The reward of the business, Mr. Durr says, is that "we're able for the first time to present a global perspective on a problem, which . . . had never existed before in as convenient a form."

Micros Systems buys interest in Fidelio

Micros Systems Inc. of Beltsville said last week that it bought a 15 percent interest in a German software maker, Fidelio Software GmbH.

Micros, which makes electronic information systems for the leisure industry, said it also has an option to purchase up to 100 percent of Munich-based Fidelio, a closely held company. Financial details of the agreement weren't released.

Picasso phones unveiled by AT&T;

AT&T; last week unveiled its Picasso phones, which can exchange high-quality still video images during a call.

It takes about 10 seconds to send the average picture, using the caller's cameras and monitors. The phone's price is $3,295.

Likely buyers, AT&T; says, will be design professionals who need to exchange graphic material or engineers sending technical drawings. Bethesda-based Marriott Corp. plans to make the Picasso available in its convention center hotels.

Floppy disks sold in vending machines

Signs of the times, academic division:

* At Harford Community College, supplies of floppy disks at the campus computer labs had a tendency to evaporate. The response: Vending machines near the labs now stock floppies along with the candy bars, offering an honest fix to that late-night crisis.

* The senior class at Villa Julie College is donating six large recycling bins for computer waste as its parting gift to the school. It's probably no coincidence that class president Joe Merenda is starting a recycling business with his brother John. The paperless society hasn't arrived yet.

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