Close this search box.
Close this search box.

Metering the Infobahn

The colorful and oversize paintings that hang in the New York headquarters of Wave Systems are an appropriate metaphor for the company’s chairman and CEO, 56-year-old Peter Sprague. Before and during his 30 years as chairman of chip maker National Semiconductor, Sprague spearheaded a number of ventures, some of them admittedly quixotic: a chicken farm in Iran, a run for Congress, stints as chairman of luxury car maker Aston Martin and as a movie producer.

No one ever accused Sprague of being unwilling to take a chance. And with sevenyear-old Wave Systems, his chips are again on the table. The Silicon Valley entrepreneur is targeting the desktop PC with his unique product, a chip that can encrypt and meter access to electronic information, ranging from medical and legal libraries to photographic images. It is a pay-for-use proposition: The chip prevents hackers from hauling in freebies, but allows browsers to access an index for free, paying only to unscramble the text they need. Wave will make its money on back-office operations, taking a cut for metering usage, billing, and gathering marketing feedback.

In August, Sprague signed a deal with Hughes Network Systems and wire service providers Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News, PR Newswire, and Businesswire, which collectively will sell information to desktop subscribers, who will pay for downloading.

The venture, based in Reston, VA, and known as Network News, is only a piece of the pie. Sprague’s other line of attack is for publishers to sell a package of CD-ROMs with encrypted information and a Wave chip to unlock it. Fifty-odd publishing deals are in the works, he says, starting with tax, accounting, and legal information suppliers. And Sprague is not completely bypassing the Net: Users with the chip would have the option to retrieve encrypted information from the World Wide Web.

In a departure from his free-wheeling past-when he was juggling two or three companies at once-Sprague resigned his post last May at National Semiconductor to focus exclusively on Wave Systems. He faces a formidable challenge. Wave’s success rests on his ability to sell th both publishers and users. “We must convince users to put in the chip, and they won’t do that unless publishers are willing to supply information,” he says.

For the company to fly, Sprague also must convince PC makers to ship their computers with the chip already installed. Indeed, he reckons it will take 10 million chips in the marketplace to reach critical mass. That means he will have to sell the idea to PC manufacturers-who operate on razor-thin margins-by paying them a share of revenues from the back-office operations.

Clearly, Sprague has placed a hefty bet: He and his family own 2.8 million of the company’s 14 million outstanding shares. (Wave went public at $5 a share in August 1994, and recently was trading around $6.) He thrives on such risks. In any case, he’s hoping that in five years and with myriad technical and logistical issues resolved, “Wave will be the dullest company around: We’ll be just a service provider.” 


  • Get the CEO Briefing

    Sign up today to get weekly access to the latest issues affecting CEOs in every industry
  • upcoming events


    Strategic Planning Workshop

    1:00 - 5:00 pm

    Over 70% of Executives Surveyed Agree: Many Strategic Planning Efforts Lack Systematic Approach Tips for Enhancing Your Strategic Planning Process

    Executives expressed frustration with their current strategic planning process. Issues include:

    1. Lack of systematic approach (70%)
    2. Laundry lists without prioritization (68%)
    3. Decisions based on personalities rather than facts and information (65%)


    Steve Rutan and Denise Harrison have put together an afternoon workshop that will provide the tools you need to address these concerns.  They have worked with hundreds of executives to develop a systematic approach that will enable your team to make better decisions during strategic planning.  Steve and Denise will walk you through exercises for prioritizing your lists and steps that will reset and reinvigorate your process.  This will be a hands-on workshop that will enable you to think about your business as you use the tools that are being presented.  If you are ready for a Strategic Planning tune-up, select this workshop in your registration form.  The additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    New York, NY: ​​​Chief Executive's Corporate Citizenship Awards 2017

    Women in Leadership Seminar and Peer Discussion

    2:00 - 5:00 pm

    Female leaders face the same issues all leaders do, but they often face additional challenges too. In this peer session, we will facilitate a discussion of best practices and how to overcome common barriers to help women leaders be more effective within and outside their organizations. 

    Limited space available.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $495 will be added to your total.

    Golf Outing

    10:30 - 5:00 pm
    General’s Retreat at Hermitage Golf Course
    Sponsored by UBS

    General’s Retreat, built in 1986 with architect Gary Roger Baird, has been voted the “Best Golf Course in Nashville” and is a “must play” when visiting the Nashville, Tennessee area. With the beautiful setting along the Cumberland River, golfers of all capabilities will thoroughly enjoy the golf, scenery and hospitality.

    The golf outing fee includes transportation to and from the hotel, greens/cart fees, use of practice facilities, and boxed lunch. The bus will leave the hotel at 10:30 am for a noon shotgun start and return to the hotel after the cocktail reception following the completion of the round.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $295 will be added to your total.