In the first telco challenge to the content strategies of
cable high-speed service providers, Sprint Communications Co. is about to launch
broadband-enhanced multimedia as part of its consumer digital-subscriber-line service.
Sprint has a long way to go before it can match the content
foundations built by Excite@Home and Road Runner. But the carrier is going one better in
its first iteration of specialized content offerings by providing online CD-ROM services,
using the platform supplied by Media Station Inc.
Sprint said it was also including broadband-enhanced
content from MSNBC.com and Broadcast.com Inc., the latter of which became a unit of Yahoo!
Inc. last week and will now be called Yahoo! Broadcast Services.
All of these components will be included at no extra charge
in the monthly basic DSL package rate offered with Sprint's Internet-service-provider
partner, EarthLink Network Inc., said Greg Crosby, vice president for high-speed-data
products at Sprint's local-telecommunications division.
They will be introduced in the unit's DSL-service
territories starting next week in Charlottesville, Va., where DSL was just launched, and
in Las Vegas a week or two later, when DSL service starts there, Crosby added.
Sprint's local division also targeted the Orlando, Fla.,
area for DSL launch in the fall, and it plans to add another territory, which Crosby
declined to name, before the year ends.
As the carrier gains market experience and expands its
broadband-enhanced content, it may move to per-use pricing on some elements. But for now,
the no-extra-charge policy will apply wherever it introduces DSL over its local telephone
networks, Crosby said.
Sprint is providing a 512-kilobit-per-second downstream,
128-kbps upstream DSL service with Internet access in Charlottesville for $54.95 per
month, with a $2 discount for one-year subscriptions.
It is also offering a 1.5-megabit-per-second/384-kbps ADSL
(asymmetrical DSL) service for $75.99, including the EarthLink component, and a
640-by-640-kbps symmetrical service targeted toward the business community at $129.99.
Sprint officials also view consumer-oriented content and
applications as an important piece of their local-service strategy in markets where they
don't own the local telephone facilities, including newly acquired wireless cable
territories and DSL-service territories to be launched under the ION (Integrated On-Demand
"We'll be introducing DSL in 20 to 30 of our local
[telephone] markets next year, and we'll use our local experience as we evaluate the
approaches we'll take outside of our local territories," Crosby said.
Sprint expects consumer demand for entertainment-oriented
content, in conjunction with the availability of set-top boxes and other devices that port
DSL to the TV set, to push it to raise bandwidth into the multimegabit range.
But the company believes the 512-kbps rate of its basic
service will be sufficient to provide customers with a much richer experience than what
they're accustomed to over dial-up lines.
The company will use its own high-speed long-haul Internet
and Internet on-ramp links, as well as local caching, to maximize the performance of
content at this rate, Crosby noted.
For example, Broadcast.com has established a
multimedia-streaming service in the 100- to 300-kbps range to deliver enhanced versions of
its content to DSL and other high-speed customers. Yahoo! officials said they were moving
aggressively to bolster broadband-enhanced content to include many other aspects of the
portal's operations, including advertising and e-commerce.
Similarly, MSNBC.com will provide Sprint with high-speed
video versions of its news and sports feeds, general manager John Nicol said, adding that
MSNBC will make a "news-alert" function available to customers with the
always-on capabilities of high-speed-data networks.
The 512-kbps rate is also sufficient to support the CD-ROM
on-demand service from the Media Station platform at performance levels matching the
experience of users who play CD-ROMs on their personal computers, Media Station senior
vice president for strategic development Allan McLennan said.
While CD-ROM content typically runs at multimegabit rates,
the system accommodates lower transmission rates by using what Media Station calls
"predictive block transfer."
That technology identifies and transfers the next portion
of a file to be played, keeping ahead of the user by anticipating what will be accessed
and delivering it in advance at whatever data rate the network allows, McLennan said.
"When the user actually gets to the block to begin playing it, it's already in cache
on the hard drive," he added.
Media Station's "SelectPlay" service includes
new-release titles from some of the leading entertainment and education interactive-media
producers, including Hasbro Inc., Havas SA, Humongous Entertainment, The Learning Co.,
Mattel Inc.'s Mattel Media and others, McLennan noted.
The company's national business model suggests that users
be given unlimited access to 75 titles stored locally for a monthly fee of $6.95, which is
being waived in Sprint's application.
Along with adding enhanced content to its offering, Sprint
is moving forward with the use of "splitterless" technology supplied by Alcatel
Alsthom, Crosby noted. This version of DSL operates over the premises phone wiring,
eliminating the need for a second wire in the home, but it often requires easy-to-install
filters to prevent interference with standard telephone calls.
The Alcatel system has also been adopted for rollouts in
Bell Atlantic Corp. territories, starting with New York, noted Lisa Lemmo, product manager
for DSL at that carrier.
"We can just ship customers the modem package with
microfilters they can install themselves in front of telephones and fax machines,"
she said, noting that for customers who can install or have already installed Ethernet
cards, this means no technician visits of any kind will be required.
The splitterless service will also be offered as an option
to customers of the new business-oriented DSL service Bell Atlantic is about to introduce
in New York, Lemmo said. "We'll evaluate customer responses before we decide whether
to offer it as an option on business services elsewhere," she added.
Bell Atlantic is adding a business version of its
"Infospeed" DSL service throughout its DSL markets, starting with a version
operating at 640 kbps downstream/90 kbps upstream and priced at $64.95 per month,
including Internet access, versus $49.95 for a comparable residential service.
The main distinction between the two services is the
provision of six e-mail boxes with the business version versus one with the residential
one, Lemmo said.
Bell Atlantic is looking at adding other services as part
of its business DSL packages, including "vanity domain naming," which uses the
customer's name, rather than Bell Atlantic's name, in Web-site addresses. This and other
possible enhancements are being tested in Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia, she added.