Speed is the key to new Internet links

High-speed broadband access promises big changes, especially in the realm of video. Companies are scurrying to get aboard. Snap.com, the venture backed by NBC and CNet Inc., has unveiled the first Web portal tailored to computer users with ultra-fast connections to the Internet.

With hundreds of thousands of homes signing up for high-speed Internet access either through cable television or telephone companies, Web firms are experimenting with what many view as the future of the online world, where people are always connected and download times are insignificant.

Snap’s announcement comes on the heels of those of other technology companies developing content, software and hardware for high-speed connections, often called broadband.

Everyone from travel agents to television networks is developing a Web site to cater to users of broadband, which allows people to download music, video and other data five to 10 times faster than through regular computer modems.

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”I absolutely believe that with broadband there will be new companies built based on innovations that we aren’t even thinking of right now,” said Tom Jessiman, senior vice president of operations of SportsLine USA Inc. “People are saying ‘Oh, yeah, we’ll use video and audio more,’ but the ones that will win are bringing new ideas.”

Snap.com, a latecomer in the field of Web portals, hopes to leapfrog its competitors, including Yahoo, Excite, Netscape, America Online and Microsoft’s MSN, with a new site that tightly integrates video and audio into virtually every Web page. In unveiling its site, the company announced more than 20 content and distribution partners and advertisers.

”It’s not a portal layering in some graphics and video. We wanted to begin to define a different experience,” said Edmond Sanctis, chief operating officer of Snap. “With broadband, you begin to use the Internet connection for something that begins to transcend just a souped-up version of the Internet today.”

Combining greater speed with the “always on” feature, meaning the computer is always running and connected to the Internet, could dramatically change the way people use the Net since they will no longer be hampered by the tedious task of turning on the machine, logging on and dialing in.

Virtual worlds, which have been passed over because of their heavy bandwidth requirements, may make a comeback, with Web surfers diving through three-dimensional weather reports.

When Intel Corp. unveiled the Pentium III chip last month, the company highlighted its ability to handle high-bandwidth Internet content. Excite Inc.’s partnership with @Home Network, a high-speed Internet access service offered via cable, is driven by the notion of combining content with speed. grainy footage and stilted, fuzzy sound.

”There is a certain amount of forgiveness on the part of Internet users today of things that they wouldn’t accept in mainstream media,” Vance said. “I’m not sure how long that will last.”

But broadband can make entertainment more viable online, and sports information is a natural for exploiting high-speed Internet connections.

SportsLine is considering an application that would e-mail a personalized highlight video clips show to customers, featuring only those teams events the customer selects. Such a service over a regular dial-up connection now could take hours to download and would be subject to numerous glitches due to the vagaries of the Internet.

Online games constitute another category well-suited to take advantage of high-speed networks.

”Latency (delays caused by Internet traffic jams) is an issue for us, and it’s one of the biggest hindrances to online gaming growth,” said Sarah Anderson, vice president and general manager of Heat.net, part of the SegaSoft Network. “Some people get beyond it and have a great time anyway, some people can’t stand it. In order for us to really grow, we really need to see fat-pipe access expand throughout the country.”

Already, gaming networks such as Heat.net have areas reserved specifically for players with high-speed connections. In fact, with some online games it becomes almost necessary to segregate those with high-speed Internet access from the rest, since they would have a tremendous advantage over the bandwidth-challenged.

Anderson envisions bandwidth allowing for games involving thousands of simultaneous players on the same vividly depicted field and with CD-quality sound.

Advertisers also eagerly anticipate a future when they can integrate high-quality video and audio into their online ads. Internet marketing company MatchLogic Inc., a subsidiary of Excite, has been focusing on broadband possibilities. The company recently introduced technology that automatically detects the speed at which a Web site visitor is surfing and serves up a page or advertisement appropriate to that speed.

For online retailers and advertisers, a broadband world promises more sales. One of the main frustrations with shopping online is the time it takes for Web sites to load.

”The faster our site is, the more we sell, plain and simple,” said Terry Jones, chief information officer of the Sabre Group, which operates Travelocity.com, an Internet travel agency.

The expansion of the Internet access pipe is likely to lead, at least initially, to a really ugly online experience, Web designers said.

”Amateur hour will continue to reign on the Web,” said David Siegel, president of the San Francisco Web consulting firm Siegelvision. “You’ll see lots of hallways and stairs and portholes, and things to go in and out of, without much there.

”One percent of 1 percent will pop through and be really exciting.”

(Jonathan Gaw can be reached via e-mail at jonathan.gaw@latimes.com.)

(c) 1999, Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate

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