The cable giant will link up multiple buildings in a private network, but it's a crowded field.
Cable TV giant Comcast Corp. said Thursday that it will offer private computer network services to corporations -- a move that puts Comcast in competition with local telephone companies for corporate customers.
Comcast said the networking service will be faster and cheaper than the telephone lines many corporations use now.
Private networks allow corporations with multiple buildings in the Twin Cities metro area -- say a headquarters in one location and a computer data center in another -- to tie them together via Comcast's digital cable TV network.
"What we've done is taken the same technology that serves computer networks inside buildings and used it for a wide-area network between buildings," Bill Stemper, president of Comcast Business Services in Philadelphia, said in an interview. "This allows companies to do big file transfers to and from their data centers. Hospitals are a good example because their radiology departments move incredible amounts of information."
Comcast already offers the service in other large markets including Atlanta, Boston, Chicago and San Francisco, but is just introducing it in Minnesota.
Comcast first dipped its toe into the local business market a year ago, when it offered Internet and phone services aimed at corporate customers.
Under the new private data networking service, corporate customers can connect different locations within the metro at speeds ranging from 10 million bits per second ($750 a month) to 1 billion bits per second ($3,200 a month). In addition, speeds could be increased, if necessary, on a day or two's notice, Comcast said.
That's faster and less expensive than the traditional telephone industry method of connecting business customers, called T1 telephone lines, which offer relatively slow speeds of 1.5 million bits per second for hundreds of dollars a month.
But the telephone companies haven't stood still. CenturyLink, formerly Qwest, now also offers private data networks within the Twin Cities using the same technology as Comcast.
CenturyLink offers private networking speeds of 2 million bits per second to 10 billion bits per second. CenturyLink declined to provide a list of its prices in an e-mail response, saying they are tailored to individual customers.
As a result, it's unclear how many corporate customers Comcast will win away from telephone companies.
Rosemary Cochran, an analyst at Vertical Systems Group in Boston, said Comcast's advantage is that it has an extensive fiber network within the metro area to serve companies with strictly local networking needs.
The phone companies' advantage is that they have much greater networking reach across the Midwest and the nation.
In the end, the competition may come down to who has the lowest prices.
"The demand for these services is there, it's just a question of what you offer and the price," Cochran said. "But there are now more competitors, and prices have been dropping."
Steve Alexander 612-673-4553