Not a great leap, but V.34 is what we've been looking for

About 18 months ago, modem vendors were pushing the new V.34 standard as the last, best
analog data funnel to connect your computer to the info highway over regular telephone
lines.


These modems have made a big difference to users, doubling the 14.4-kilobit/sec rate of
the V.32bis standard to 28.8 kilobits/sec, and easily justifying the cost of upgrades
because they cut on-line time almost in half.


Even offices that use leased lines exclusively and pay no per-minute charges have seen
an immediate benefit from moving data around twice as fast.


At the end of 1995, I recommended that buyers should hold out for the then-emerging
generation of V.34+ modems, or at least make certain their V.34 modems were upgradeable to
V.34+.


Now it's time to take a realistic look at V.34+ offerings. Unlike previous enhancements
to the analog modem standard, V.34+ doesn't represent a great leap forward. A V.34+ modem
can hit transfer speeds of 33.6 kilobits/sec uncompressed, about 20 percent faster than
V.34 uncompressed.


Another important point is that V.34+ will work faster than V.34 only in a small
percentage of connections, because anything but the cleanest telephone line causes the
modem to fall back to slower speeds.


So why do I still recommend V.34+? The only change is to the software, so these modems
don't really cost any more than good V.34 modems. That being the case, why not take
advantage of the potential for faster performance? If you can see the speed difference,
fine. If not, you haven't lost anything.


Don't upgrade from V.34 to V.34+ if it means buying a new modem. Do upgrade if you can
get a free or low-cost software upgrade from one of about a dozen companies that make
V.34s.


If you're still operating at 14.4 kilobits/sec, do move up to a full V.34+ unit. Most
vendors already offer them at the same price as V.34, and the few holdouts are likely to
follow suit.


Although a much faster fax standard is in the works to replace the current V.17
specification, remember this: Fax modems today generally are capable of 14.4-kilobit/sec
fax transfers, but few standalone fax machines can handle more than 9,600 bits/sec. You
probably fax more often to standalone machines than to the latest whiz-bang fax modem.


Faster fax speeds, like the V.34+ improvement, probably won't add any extra cost to fax
modems, so they're definitely worth it when they become available, but don't look for much
real benefit unless you have control of both ends of your fax transmissions. In that case,
the forthcoming fax standard could double, say, interoffice transmission speeds--a
worthwhile investment.


Office managers with a prudent eye to the future should make certain that any newly
bought fax modems have flash EPROM (erasable, programmable read-only memory) chips to
store firmware.


Flash EPROMs let you download software to the fax modem hardware rather than swap
chips. This makes bug fixes and moves to faster standards very easy--often at no cost.


John McCormick, a free-lance writer and computer consultant, has been working with
computers since the early 1960s. He welcomes mail from readers. Write to him care of
Government Computer News, 8601 Georgia Ave., Suite 300, Silver Spring, Md. 20910.



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