Ocala, FL-- "I was in the right place, at the right time, with the right thing," says Jim Vander Mey about the success of his company, Intellon Corp.
He also made the right decision. When he wanted to start a company in Florida after selling the printer company he had founded in New Hampshire, the areas he considered were perennial peanut hay ("Florida's alfalfa"), vertical-take-off airplanes, and home automation.
He went with the latter. Intellon sells ICs, boards, modules, and hardware and software development tools for designing home-automation networks and products. Such networks can control lighting, security, home appliances, HVAC systems, automated meter reading, and even industrial machinery. Annual sales have grown by more than 100% over the last two years.
The story starts in 1989, when Vander Mey began researching state-of-the-art automation products to install in his new home in Ocala, FL. His search led him to the Electronics Industries Association (EIA), which was working on a specification called CEBus (Consumer Electronics Bus).
CEBus, or EIA IS-60, began as an effort to standardize infrared remote controls for home audio and video components. It evolved into a standard for whole-house automation over multiple media, including twisted-pair cable, coaxial cable, power lines, and radio frequency.
Power-line problems. Key to the standard was controlling products over a home's existing power-line wiring. "The obvious drawback to CEBus was that all the media-except for power line-ran at 10 kbps (kilobits per second). Power-line CEBus ran at 1000 bps and would bottleneck the other media," says Tim Vander Mey, vice president of engineering at Intellon and Jim Vander Mey's brother. Together, the Vander Meys developed Spread Spectrum Carrier(TM) (SSC) technology-an inexpensive way to implement CEBus over power lines and radio frequencies at 10 kbps.
Myriad problems can make power-line and RF communications unreliable and expensive. These problems include electromagnetic interference, narrow-band frequency impairment, varying impedances, signal attenuation, fading, and multipath nulls-all results of the uncontrolled and noisy media environments. Intellon's SSC technology solves these problems by redundant signalling across a broad, or spread, frequency spectrum. If noise affects portions of a signal in some frequency bands, redundancy ensures that enough of the signal will get through for reliable communications.
Technology a hit. The advantages of SSC technology were clear to the EIA, which abandoned its proposed power-line technology and chose Intellon's as the power-line standard for CEBus. Later, the EIA selected Intellon's radio-frequency (RF) version of its SSC technology as the CEBus RF standard.
After the EIA's adoption of Intellon's technology, the company took off. Annual sales grew by 110% in 1992, 110% in 1993, and an anticipated 120% in 1994 when they hit the $1 million-plus mark.
"The CEBus market is still in its very early stages," says Myra Moore, senior analyst with the Dallas-based market-research firm Parks Associates, "but Intellon's in a great position. They are making the chip, and you've got to have the chip to make all these products talk to each other."
Private offering. "With the technology proven, protected with patents, and implemented in ICs, we convinced some major investors that this