August 19, 2003 7:39 AM PDT

AOL lays claim to speed crown

America Online announced Tuesday the results of a sponsored study that claims the AOL 9.0 Optimized online service loads Web pages faster than competitors can.

AOL 9.0 Optimized is the latest version of the Internet giant's proprietary online service. The service--currently available only for AOL subscribers who use Windows 98, 2000 and XP--comes bundled with software that caches information from Web pages on person's hard drive in order to serve Web pages faster. Adding such software is one technique that AOL is using to boost subscriber loyalty and attract new customers. EarthLink and United Online have already been using that technique.

The release of the study, commissioned by AOL, comes at the same time the Internet giant unveils its most ambitious service upgrade to date. AOL is hoping to stem the flow of subscribers and advertising dollars from its service by beefing up its online service with new features and perks. Subscribers have been defecting to broadband providers and cheaper dial-up services, leading AOL to report two consecutive quarters of subscriber declines.

In Tuesday's study, AOL reports that its upcoming service downloads Web pages faster and more reliably than rivals EarthLink, NetZero and MSN. The study, conducted by researcher VeriTest, compares the respective services that use Web page caching software to speed up downloads.

The result showed that AOL 9.0 Optimized, which includes a caching feature called Top Speed, completed a higher percentage of Web page downloads within 10 seconds than Earthlink Plus and NetZero HiSpeed. MSN, which does not have a speedier Web cache version, was also measured in the test.

Each service downloaded Web pages from 19 different sites--including CNET.com and ZDNet.com, both owned by News.com parent CNET Networks--at least 71 times per site. All services were narrowband Internet service providers, according to the study.

United Online said the study was a validation of accelerated dial-up ISPs.

"AOL and others introducing accelerated dial-up products that they claim perform exceptionally well is a great thing for dial-up industry," said Mark Goldston, the CEO of United Online. "For us, it will be a great credibility strike if they're out for $23.90 charging you for accelerated dial-up product, and we're out there for $14.95. We've just now inherited a phenomenal benchmark for accelerated dial-up with AOL that we can be compared against."

Web acceleration software can speed up Web page downloads by up to five times, according to services that use them. Unlike broadband in which ISPs offer connections that can handle more data faster, caching technology resides on the client side and only applies to Web pages, not files such as music or e-mail.

Competitors such as EarthLink and NetZero have offered versions of their dial-up service with Web acceleration software for most of the year. The two services offer these versions as premium products for higher fees than their standard prices. EarthLink charges $28.95 a month, up from its standard $21.95 rate, though it offers a six-month promotion. NetZero offers its HiSpeed product at $14.95, up from its standard $9.95 monthly fee.

AOL's accelerator service is bundled into AOL 9.0 Optimized, which costs the standard $23.90 a month.

"The VeriTest results underscore our focus on offering features and enhancements in AOL 9.0 Optimized that let members get the most from being online," David Gang, executive vice president of AOL products, said in a statement.

AOL reported last quarter that its U.S. subscribers declined to 25.4 million from 26.2 million in the previous quarter.

 

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