@Home Looks to Excite Wireless, DSL Users


Excite@Home Corp. is rapidly putting together a strategicagenda that looks beyond the @Home Network service's exclusionary roots in cable toan environment where wireless and digital-subscriber-line access are part of the broadbandplay.

In one demonstration of the strategic shift occasioned byAt Home Corp.'s merger with Excite Inc., the company is close to rolling out abroadband-enhanced version of Excite's portal service that makes use of the @Homebackbone to provide ready access to Excite content no matter what service provider isused.

At the same time, the company is actively pursuing dealswith wireless carriers in hopes of being able to offer customers anytime-anywhereconnectivity.

"We will soon be rolling out our first integratedbroadband version of Excite," Excite@Home chief technology officer Milo Medin said."Our goal is to try to build a unified broadband experience."

The spreading reach of Excite@Home's broadbandservices and the opening of wireless affiliations are responses to the same shiftingonline scenario that has stirred the debate in cable over how to proceed with dealsinvolving other high-speed-data service providers, such as America Online Inc.

But whether that means Excite@Home is ready to renegotiatethe terms of its exclusivity agreements with its cable affiliates remains to be seen.

"I think it's in the best interest of the cableindustry to be able to do a deal with AOL, but being harnessed to @Home has prevented thatfrom happening," Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. senior media analyst Tom Wolziensaid. "So far, @Home's management doesn't appear to recognize thatit's playing in a larger sandbox when it comes to its arrangements with cablecompanies."

A cable executive at an MSO affiliate of Excite@Homeexpressed surprise at the service provider's unfolding broadband strategy. "Thisis the first we've heard about it, but it doesn't sound to me like it's inthe spirit of their stand on exclusivity in their dealings with us," the executivesaid, speaking on background.

Customers with high-speed-access capabilities would be ableto get to much of the same content through the Excite broadband portal that they canaccess via @Home. "You may see caches [files stored on local servers] with localizedcontent in the @Home experience that are not available through Excite. But otherwise, itwill be fairly integrated," Medin said.

Key to making an ubiquitous service possible is thenationwide broadband infrastructure Excite@Home has been building, using high-speed fiberlines leased from AT&T Corp. in conjunction with regional data centers equipped withadvanced routers and servers.

By funneling the Excite broadband content through thisdistribution system, the company will be in a position to charge Internet-serviceproviders for the content or to make the Excite portion available to anybody with enoughbandwidth to receive what's available through the broadband portal.

Officials declined to discuss what business strategies mayevolve. But they made it clear that expanding the advertising base for broadband contentvia the Excite portal is a key part of the business rationale.

"Most of the users accessing Excite are on dial-up, sothey can't be counted as part of the advertising base for broadband content, butthere will be a benefit on the advertising side," Medin said.

On another front, the company is talking with AT&TWireless and other wireless carriers in hopes of striking deals that would allow @Homeproviders to offer a personalized version via wireless devices.

A customer who takes such a service would be able to accesse-mail, the Internet and other services and applications through an @Home account frommobile devices, Medin said.

Excite@Home cut a deal last month with AirFlash.com Inc. towork on a wireless service that marries the two entities' content.

"Our relationship with AirFlash will accelerate ourability to partner quickly and effectively with wireless carriers to bring the best of theWeb to their customers," Excite@Home senior vice president for content Joe Kraussaid.

Customers of carriers that offer this service will be ableto gain access to their personalized Excite Web pages, as well as to Excite@Homeapplications that are tailored for the low-bandwidth access capabilities of mobilenetworks.

In the future, such applications will expand from thepagerlike messaging level to more broadbandlike features as wireless carriers move tonext-generation platforms, Medin said.

"What we're doing in the pilot project may not bewhat we do when 3G [the third-generation wireless system] comes along," he added.

The wireless connection would put Excite@Home in theposition of being able to offer something more than a fixed, fast-access service, therebydifferentiating its service from what's available from other service providers, Medinnoted.

"If you're a customer who has an integratedservice, where all of your personalized account information is accessible to you whereveryou are, you're not likely to throw away your cable modem when somebody offers you aDSL service," he said.