Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Make Haste Slowly to Faster Modems

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Make Haste Slowly to Faster Modems

Article excerpt

Is it time, finally, to buy a new modem? The answer could depend on where you live, and how adventurous you are.

It's been ages since computer magazines first printed stories about a new class of modems that delivered data up to twice as fast as the 28.8 kilobits per second (kbps) devices found on most existing home PCs. Speed-hungry Internet lovers couldn't wait.

Months later, many are still cooling their heels. Blame the holdup on a colossal fight over 56 kbps standards between the country's two biggest modem-chip makers, Rockwell Semiconductor Systems in Newport Beach, Calif., and U.S. Robotics of Skokie, Ill. Each is following its own technological path, which means devices built around U.S. Robotics' "x2" 56 kbps chip set aren't compatible with "K56Flex" devices developed by Rockwell and its partner, Lucent Technologies. All of which means Internet users are out of luck if the 56 kbps modem they buy doesn't match the technology their Internet service provider has decided to offer. Not that many Internet providers even offer 56 kbps connections yet. Upgrades to build 56 kbps technology into the "central site" hardware that Internet service providers use to answer customers' incoming data calls is just becoming available. Many providers, including America Online, CompuServe, Prodigy and Microsoft Network, are just starting to test the higher-speed access and expect to roll it out gradually. "The longer you wait, the better off you are," said Robert Sanders, chief technology officer at MindSpring Enterprises Inc. MindSpring is a good example of why that may be true. The Atlanta Internet provider currently is installing U.S. Robotics' 56 kbps technology in 40 of its 280 dial-in lines. But Sanders doesn't know when high-speed access will be available in the remainder of the network, which MindSpring leases from PSINet, a wholesale Internet provider that is deploying Rockwell technology. Netcom On-Line Communications in San Jose, Calif., another major provider, expects to have U.S. Robotics 56 kbps modems in place in its top five markets by the end of the month, and in another six cities by the end of summer, a spokesman said. …

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