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Akamai to face new rival in start-up Axient

A start-up Net content-distribution company is slated to announce details of its business plan and to begin widely marketing its services as early as next week, CNET has learned.

The market for network technologies that speed up the Web could be headed for a traffic jam.

Axient Communications, a start-up Net content-distribution company, is slated to announce details of its business plan and to begin widely marketing its services as early as next week, CNET has learned.

The content "caching" firm is only the latest Internet company to use the technique. Dozens of companies, notably Akamai Technologies, Digital Island and Mirror Image Internet, provide similar services, storing Web pages and streaming multimedia content in systems strategically located in various regions across the country. By storing content closer to Web surfers on their own networks, these companies hope to speed Web downloads.

Akamai's success and ensuing stock market valuation have helped spawn numerous competitors. One potential investor who reviewed Axient's plans said "the entire premise was they're going to be an Akamai-killer."

Axient markets a service called "Octane" to ISPs and says it provides full-screen, high-resolution video and stereo sound. The company's focus on the video streaming market is intended to differentiate it from others that primarily store heavily trafficked Web pages locally. The company also plans to sell its service directly to content providers and e-commerce companies.

Company executives could not be reached for comment.

Axient's new presence in a fast-growing market raises questions about whether the company is too late to the party, or whether the content caching and distribution market can sustain more competitors.

But some analysts believe the market is only beginning to emerge, and that Axient and others may find new and creative ways to shuttle Web content and video around the Net.

"It's a space that will continue to expand and evolve. As long you have the dollars to play the game right now, I don't see any problems with more participants," said Peter Christy, a content caching industry analyst at Jupiter Communications, a market research firm.

"Is there enough business to support everyone? No," Christy said. "But that doesn't mean if you're fifth to market you'll fail."

The emerging industry is drawing a great deal of attention.

For example, Exodus Communications, a Web hosting company, made a significant investment in Mirror Image earlier this year.

Satellite-based content distribution firms iBeam Broadcasting and Cidera tested the IPO market this year. Even Covad Communications, a high-speed digital subscriber line (DSL) connection provider, is developing its own Internet content-distribution network designed for streaming video.

Intel's hosting unit also is trying to crack the streaming market.

Phoenix-based Axient is led by chief executive Michael Gordon, formerly a founder at Cyclone Software, and has many executives from communications companies such as GlobalCenter, Level 3 Communications, Bell Atlantic and MCI Communications.

Axient is building on its next-generation Internet content network, which it launched this spring. The content-delivery network is already commercially available in 60 U.S. cities, according to the Axient Web site.

The company has partnerships with network service provider Williams Communications and equipment makers Sun Microsystems and Alteon WebSystems, as well as alliances with Computer Associates, Entera and EMC.

A company spokeswoman said Axient is expected to make two announcements next week, including new partnerships, though she declined to offer specifics.

Analysts suggested the announcements could involve technology or hosting center partners, or possibly an investment or a large customer for the Octane service.

Jupiter's Christy, who recalls that Akamai announced Yahoo as a customer when it launched, said a major customer endorsement can lend credibility to a new company.

"It can make people say, 'I don't know what this company does exactly, but there must be some meat here,'" he said.