End in sight for the World Wide Wait

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The Independent Online
Relief may be at hand for users of the Internet who find that navigating cyberspace feels less like surfing and more like endlessly treading water, reports David Usborne in New York

A consortium of high technology companies in the United States is expected shortly to unveil plans for a new super-fast modem that will deliver Internet content at up to 30 times the speed available from any modem now on the market.

Developed jointly by Microsoft, Intel and Compaq, the three leviathans of the American computer industry, the new modems could be on shelves in the US in time for next Christmas.

If successfully marketed, the modems could revolutionise cyberspace. They promise to end the frustration suffered by millions of Internet customers who sometimes wait minutes for pages from the World Wide Web to land on their screens. With these modems, they would materialise almost instantly.

Details of the project are expected to be unveiled at a telecommunications conference in Washington next week, the New York Times reported yesterday.

Closely involved with the computer companies are most of America's regional telephone companies who have cooperated in setting common technological standards for the new equipment.

The modems would feed data via traditional telephone lines. They would remain plugged into the Internet at all times without users actually having to dial up a connection. Users would even be able to use their telephone for voice transmission simultaneously.

Recently, the industry has been switching focus to television cable as the best means of delivering data in the future at speeds acceptable to consumers. But speculation that access via television set-top boxes would supplant telephone connections may be reversed by next week's announcement.

Characteristically, Microsoft seems to be successfully positioning itself to ensure dominance regardless of whether telephone or cable television comes out on top.

While pursuing the new phone modem with its partners, Bill Gates has made significant investments in the television cable industry, buying a stake in Comcast, one of America's largest cable distributors, and buying WebTV, which makes set-top boxes capable of delivering data and television programming.