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Tomorrow's Net speeds could be up to 1,600 percent faster

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If you think today's high-speed Internet connections are fast, wait until you see what cable operators plan.

The industry's standard-settings unit, CableLabs, plans this month to endorse technology that will let operators boost speeds 400 percent to 1,600 percent above current levels.

Motorola and Cisco are among companies offering alternative methods to increase broadband speeds by linking together the bandwidth used for four or more conventional TV channels.

What would the faster speed bring?

"The sky's the limit," says CableLabs CEO Dick Green. "There are a lot of high-data-rate services lurking out there - including a lot that we haven't even thought of."

While cable operators now usually transmit broadband at 3 million bits per second (3Mbps), download of "a billion bits per second is completely doable," says Comcast CEO Brian Roberts. "The network could do this quite easily."

That could dramatically affect how people use the Internet when new modems designed to handle the speeds arrive, which is expected to be in 2008.

"This will change our lives well beyond entertainment," says Cisco Systems CEO John Chambers. For example, when speeds allow quick sending of detailed images, such as X-rays, he says, "You'll do the majority of your health care straight from the home."

Others envision a host of other applications. For example, businesses could easily arrange video conferences with similar resolution to HDTV broadcasts. Consumers could download an entire HD movie in about five minutes compared to about 22 minutes today.

And, "There will be a need for higher speeds as games become more graphics-intensive," says Adelphia Chief Technical Officer Marwan Fawaz.

Hospitals and schools also may be among the first to take advantage of the additional transmission capacity, which is expected to cost more than current high-speed Internet services.

Operators want to get moving to keep ahead of phone companies, led by Verizon, that are building communications systems with more fiber-optic lines - and therefore more transmission capacity - than cable.

"There'll be a speed arms race," says RealNetworks CEO Rob Glaser.

But the new cable standard, known as DOCSIS 3.0, also will make it easier for operators to handle other chores.

"I could take a cell phone and program my digital video recorder," says Richard Doherty of The Envisioneering Group. "Quality of service is a big part of it."

By DAVID LIEBERMAN

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