Internet portal rivals America Online (AOL) and [email protected] slugged it out in front of an audience of investors this week as they took their respective stands on the future of broadband networks.
George Bell, [email protected]’s president and founder, claimed at this week's Bancboston Robertson Stephens' “Investing in Innovations” conference in San Francisco, that cable would beat digital subscriber line (DSL) technology because it was fast, always available and relatively cheap.
"At $40 a month for a 34Mbps connection, you would get half that speed using DSL for $300 per month. Seventy per cent of users who get the taste of @Home never go back to AOL," he attested.
Broadband technologies would also enable advertisers to target prospective customers better, he claimed. During his keynote speech, he said that a car manufacturer could deliver adverts to every [email protected] subscriber by matching its dealers’ customer demographic information with that of Excite's subscribers.
He added that [email protected]'s broadband customers would be able to personalise their home pages using a new version of its portal that was due out at the end of the year. The pages could also include alerts for local weather updates and entertainment guides.
But Ted Leonsis, president of AOL's interactive properties group, retorted: "Broadband is a narrowband add on feature, not a replacement. AOL will continue to be a major player."
He explained that the next version of the firm’s portal, AOL 5.0, would have a 'broadband sniffer' that could establish the type of backbone technology customers were using to decide whether their Internet sites could cope with extra video images, for example.
But he also said that AOL was busy battling with Microsoft, which had slammed the portal site for preventing its MSN Instant Messenger client software from working with AOL’s ICQ instant messenging service (see Newswire, 26 July, 1999).
He added that Microsoft:"is trying to hook into [Buddylist, AOL's instant messenger] to get users to give them their passwords, so they can mimic the AOL service."
Excite’s Bell likewise used his keynote speech to deny rumours that the company was about to be taken over by Yahoo!, although he confirmed that the two were discussing how to include Yahoo! in [email protected]'s start page (see Newswire, 4 August, 1999).
"We've had talks with Yahoo! and others about how to get them onto the start page, but we've not figured out how to do this without giving up our customers," he said.
But Keith Benjamin, an Internet analyst at Bancboston, said he would not be surprised if Yahoo! acquired a company such as [email protected]
“I'm puzzled at how Yahoo! can get to the next level without doing something big," he said, but added that players such as Excite, AOL and Yahoo! were more likely to "play nice" to each other than try to consolidate the industry.
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