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High-Performance Modems

Vendors promise ISDN-type speeds at lower prices 

By Richard Adhikari
Issue date: Oct. 21, 1996 

Just as ISDN is establishing itself in corporate America, along comes a data
transmission technology that threatens to take over:
modems that support transmission from 33.6 Kbps to 57.6 Kbps. 

The technology is so new it doesn't have a name yet, nor has anyone seen it
work in the real world. But the biggest vendors in
the modem industry--U.S. Robotics, Rockwell Semiconductor, Motorola, and
Lucent--have announced plans to offer
products using it. 

Some users are eager to try the new technology, which U.S. Robotics calls
x2. "It looks like we can get ISDN-type speeds
from our users who don't have ISDN at their residences, and it'll be cheaper
than ISDN," says Duane Rochelle, an IT engineer
at the Entergy Services division of Entergy Corp., an electric utility in
New Orleans. 

Analysts say the technology may have appeal. "All those people who'd started
to think about ISDN very seriously may think
this is easier to implement," says Kitty Weldon, a senior analyst at the
Yankee Group, a consulting firm in Boston. "That's
frustrating, because ISDN is finally getting some mindshare." 

To get the promised throughput, users need x2-compatible modems at both ends
of the connection, and only one
analog-to-digital conversion in the transmission path. The server modem must
be connected to a digital circuit--a trunk-side T1
or ISDN line. The server modem can send data at higher than usual speeds
because it doesn't need to convert from digital to
analog before sending the signal over public phone lines. 

The technology, if it works, will primarily benefit big companies. "The
56-Kbps technologies will be very well received in large
Internet service provider installations and large corporate environments,
which terminate modem calls on a T1 or an ISDN PRI
[primary rate interface]," says Kieran Taylor, senior broadband consultant
at TeleChoice Inc., a consulting firm in Verona, N.J.
Entergy, for example,has laid the foundations: "We have an ISDN PRI and will
probably have two or three within the next few
months," Rochelle says. 

One roadblock: "There's going to be a standards war," says Lisa Pelgrim, an
analyst at Dataquest Inc., a market research firm
in San Jose, Calif. As they push for standards, all vendors are going
forward with proprietary technology. Users will need the
same vendor's technology on their computer and at their ISP or corporate
office. 

Vendors plan to unveil 56-Kbps products over the next eight months or so,
beginning with U.S. Robotics. The first customers
are likely to be ISPs; U.S. Robotics says it has 30 of them signed up to use
its technology. 

With additional reporting by Mary E. Thyfault

Comments on this story?

http://www.informationweek.com
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