Official standards are imminent; it's time to shop for 56K modems

After a year of jockeying, modem makers have agreed to agree on an industry standard
for 56-kilobit/sec modems.

The big players, 3Com Corp., Motorola Inc. and Rockwell Semiconductor Group, will
likely permit adoption of a preliminary determined standard for high-speed modems at this
month's meeting of the International Telecommunications Union. This stage comes before a
final, official standard.

V.pcm, which stands for pulse code modulation, blends parts of the high-speed
technologies developed by the key players. But you could say 3Com is the winner, because
it furnished the biggest chunk. That could translate into larger royalty payments from its
modem sales.

Sluggish sales of 56K modems evidently led to the agreement. Buyers balked because they
couldn't be sure their new modems would work at top speed if their Internet providers had
installed other brands.

Expect vendors to unload their surplus 56K modems at good prices soon. Most units were
built to be upgradeable to an ITU standard, but ask the vendor to guarantee upgradeability
in writing. Find out if there's a charge and what else is involved. To avoid all hassles,
wait for the new crop of standards-based modems.

Keynote Systems Inc. of San Mateo, Calif., has done extensive testing to judge which
national Internet providers are most responsive.

Visit to see Keynote's
response time results plus pointers to other surveys. Other considerations are ease of
installation and local access numbers in hundreds of cities.

One bottleneck for every provider is the place it accesses the Internet--a network
access point. Public NAPs such as Merit Access Exchange-East in Vienna, Va., and MAE-West
in San Jose, Calif., are cheaper, but some ISPs have built private NAPs where network
traffic is low to improve their response times.

As you shop around, take a look at each provider's response time, and ask how that
provider accesses the Internet.

Shawn P. McCarthy is a computer journalist, webmaster and Internet programmer for
Cahners Publishing Co. E-mail him at [email protected].

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