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Telephone companies have long been among the most flagrant practitioners of pie-in-the-sky advertising, telling us that we will soon live in an electronic utopia brought to us by Ma Bell and her offspring. For the majority of users stuck surfing the World Wide Web over 28.8Kbps modems, these ads are either a bad joke or an annoying tease. But several initiatives by the keepers of our communications infrastructure signal that the long-heralded broadband revolution is actually at hand, and with it will come many of the much-hyped benefits of the Internet.
These benefits, which include improved content via streaming audio, video, and new applications like 3-D virtual stores, will combine with a rapidly expanding base of online consumers to fuel an explosion of electronic commerce over the Internet. The broadband revolution will not only hasten changes in Web design but the shape of commerce itself, including the way companies can provide goods and services to consumers.
The paramount issues are how quickly broadband Internet access will arrive, and what the Internet will look like when it does. By one estimate, broadband services will be available to more than half the U.S. population by the end of 1999.
Web site designers will have to account for broadband Internet access by improving transaction handling on their sites. They will be able to exploit the performance gains by, for example, building more interactive features.
"Relatively unlimited bandwidth and the `always on' nature of these technologies will enable the creation of all kinds of new content delivery," says Kiran Narsu, area director and senior analyst at Giga Information Group, a Cambridge, Mass.-based market research company. Broadband access "will spur Internet commerce like probably no innovation up until now."
BEEFING UP. IT staffs will also need to account for the broadband revolution by insuring that their bandwidth and transaction processing systems can scale up to meet the coming demand.
"Microsoft says they take six and a half million people a day to their site, but they're not selling six and a half million people an order," says Tom Collins, vice president of information systems at Egghead, in Spokane, Wash. "The key is, will the databases be able to handle the transactional volume. [There are] a lot of [IBM] 3090 [mainframes] that do a lot of orders out there for some big companies, but on the Web it's entirely different how that transaction …