Comdex Fall, Las Vegas: 56K modems picture looks fuzzy

Martin Veitch live from Comdex, Las Vegas

While US Robotics (USR) cranked up the hype for its X2 56Kbit/sec modems at Comdex in Las Vegas this week, standards doubts were still muddying the picture for visitors.

USR and Cardinal Technologies are following the same DSP-based route that guarantees a software upgrade for their respective 33.6Kbit/sec modems. However, the road to 56Kbits may not be cheap for UK users: USR, for example, is charging $95 (about £65) for the upgrade.

Followers of the Rockwell and similar Lucent-proposed 56Kbit standards will need to send back modems for a chip retrofit but their solution could be the more likely to win the backing of the ITU regulatory body, judging by the fact that over 100 modem vendors are supporting the Rockwell standard bid.

A real standard is still some way off, according to vendors. "There's a lot of debugging to be done ... I don't believe it will be ratified until 1998," said a spokesman for MutliTech, a backer of the Lucent bid. "[Comdex visitors] here are kind of 'so what?' about 56Kbits. They're tired of proprietary standards. With USR you can buy it quickly with a software upgrade but what are you going to have to do when there's a standard? USR in everybody's opinion jumped the gun. To us [USR's announcement] was just a marketing deal." MultiTech said it would be the end of the second quarter at earliest before it ships a 56Kbit device.

In other modem show news, MultiTech showed its $89 ZPXW V.80 software modem running 15 frames per second videoconferencing over telephone lines. Motorola demonstrated its CyberSURFR cable modem that is currently being used in Nynex trials in the Manchester area.

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