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Bell, Microsoft launch 'super portal'

Wed, 06/09/2004 - 8:00pm
Tyler Hamilton

Copyright 2004 Toronto Star Newspapers, Ltd.

June 10, 2004 Thursday

Bell Canada, the country's largest Internet service provider, and Microsoft Corp., the world's biggest software firm, have launched a co-branded "super portal" in a bid to dominate the nation's broadband homes.

Sympatico.MSN.ca, a combination of MSN.ca and Sympatico.ca that has been under development for a year, offers access to enhanced e-mail, entertainment, news and Internet security services to Canada's 4.1 million high-speed Internet subscribers.

For an additional $4.95, Bell Sympatico's 2.4 million high-speed customers can get MSN Premium, which offers complete anti-virus protection, ad blocking, spam filtering, multiple e-mail accounts with ample online storage and the ability to create a custom home "dashboard" that can be accessed through any Internet connection.

The premium service can't be used by Mac and Linux users, and must be accessed by Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser, company officials said.

Frank Clegg, president of Microsoft Canada Co., said the new portal is "unique in the world" for the software company and hinted the alliance could serve as a model for Microsoft joint ventures in other countries.

The move puts pressure on rivals Rogers Cable Inc. and Yahoo Inc., which announced their own co-branded portal plans earlier this year as part of efforts to beef up the cable company's high-speed content offerings.

"It will be very interesting to see what they come to market with, and when," Clegg said.

But Pierre Blouin, group president of consumer markets at Bell, emphasized the unveiling of Sympatico.MSN.ca is only the beginning of what high-speed consumers can expect to see from Bell over the next few years.

"It's one of the first steps we're going to make. It's building the foundation for many new products to come," said Blouin, pointing out that voice, television and video-on-demand services will eventually be delivered over the same turbo-boosted phone lines to complement and even interact with the new portal. The company is promoting wireless networking as a way to connect different devices in the home.

Bell is also working with Microsoft on a new TV service, dubbed IPTV, that would be delivered over phone lines using Internet protocol technology and digital data compression. The phone giant applied for cable TV licences earlier this year, and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission is scheduled to hold a hearing Aug. 9.

SaskTel and Manitoba Telecom Services Inc. already offer television service through phone lines. In anticipation of Bell entering the market, Rogers Cable is preparing for the telephone market. Both companies would then be able to offer their customers bundles of voice, TV and Internet services, known in the industry as "Triple Play" packages.

Blouin dismissed suggestions from the cable companies that Bell will have a problem delivering content such as television and on-demand videos through the phone line, which has far less capacity than thicker coaxial cables.

He said the 4 megabits per second of speed offered through Sympatico's digital subscriber line, or DSL, service is more than enough for what consumers use it for today. Bell, he added, is installing new "Stinger" technology from Lucent Technologies Inc. that will boost the speed of Bell's high-speed network by three to four times.

"That's being done today to prepare for our future while video technology is being trialed and developed" with Microsoft, said Blouin, adding no date has been set for launching IPTV.

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