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Online customers already frustrated by the lack of choice in either their supplier or available content have a new issue to contend with: degrading levels of service.

That's because the cable TV and phone industries are approaching a crisis in available bandwidth, thanks to growing demand for things like HDTV and online gaming.

And, according to a report from ABI Research, service providers will need to embrace ever-more creative solutions and new technologies to combat the problem.

ABI Research's vice president and research director Stan Schatt said in a statement: "The increasing bandwidth demands on cable operators will soon reach crisis stage, yet this is a 'dirty little secret' that no one talks about."

According to ABI, service provides need to go beyond recent steps - such as expanding the spectrum beyond 750MHz - with companies expected to spend $80bn worldwide investing in new technology during the next five years.

Among new technologies literally coming down the pipe are spectrum upgrades, node splitting, switched digital video, and MPEG-4 compression.

The analyst warned carriers against using all these technologies, saying companies should evaluate which are most applicable to circumstances.

The research comes as carriers increasingly talk of charging service and content providers for using their networks in the US. Carriers, meanwhile, are expected to seek at least a partial remedy to the crunch - in the US at least - by trying to buy a chunk of wireless spectrum under the forthcoming 700MHz auction. ®

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