A NEED FOR SPEED

Byline: Peter Braunstein

The mother of all e-buzzwords is “broadband.” Technically, broadband refers to any type of Internet connection that enables data flow that is speedier than the 28.8- or 56.6-kbps rate of dial-up ISDN connections. But it means much more than that in its role as the goose that will lay the golden egg of commercial success for e-commerce Web sites.
According to Richard Kent, VP of Professional Services for the Phillips Group, broadband enables “geometric, as opposed to incremental, increases in speed.” Depending on your bandwidth delivery system, broadband data can travel at a rate of between 1 and 8 megabytes per second.
In practical terms, this means that a sound or video file that might take 12 minutes to download in a dial-up environment will play instantly, and in real time, in a broadband system. Because certain rich media content is available, without a “World Wide Wait,” only to broadband users, the term has also come to describe the more elaborate multimedia content itself.
Currently, the roughly six million broadband subscribers connect to the Net via one of four providers: cable, digital subscriber link (DSL), satellite or fixed broadband wireless. Industry analysts like Forrester Research are positioning broadband as an inevitable feature on the Internet landscape, predicting 26 million subscribers by 2003. They point to broadband’s irresistible lures, which include relief from the online gridlock associated with dial-up use, an “always-on” continuous connection to the Internet and simultaneous access among multiple users in a single household or office.
Because so many e-commerce sites and portals see in broadband the shape of things to come, many of them are rushing to provide richer content for broadband visitors. At the same time, the more prudent e-entrepreneurs are resisting a full-on conversion to a broadband format that will lock out the dial-up crowd, those techno-laggards who nonetheless constitute the majority online presence.
People like Ed LaHood, chief executive officer of Beautyjungle.com, an e-commerce beauty site, are currently walking a data tightrope. “It’s a chicken-and-egg situation,” LaHood remarked. “Part of the incentive for people to get broadband service is knowing that there are sites out there that allow them to use it. But even though we would have loved to convert the site to high tech right now, we thought it best for the consumer to focus on the core competencies of the site and then transition.”