Some feds call on a reliable connection

—Patrick Geagan, network
administrator for the National Park Service, Reading, Calif., on his 3Com/U.S. Robotics
33.6-Kbps PC Card modem

“We recently converted to an NT server. Before, it wasn’t a problem
when you dialed in [using a PC Card modem]. But they haven’t worked out all the
little bugs in the NT system as far as the dial-in goes.’’
—K.O. Smith, analyst for the Postal Inspection Service, Dulles, Va.,
a 3Com/U.S. Robotics PC Card modem user

Being on the road isn’t fun and games, so the last thing feds want at the end of a
busy day is a hassle with their PC Card modem. They just want it to work.

Most feds we talked with aren’t heavy users of PC Card modems.

So when they check into their hotel and need to dial into the office’s remote
access server to check their e-mail, they want to fire up their notebook computer, connect
the modem and go.

“Reliability is most important to me,” said Lt. Col. Walter Munyer, former
deputy program manager for software at Fort Belvoir, Va., and now a student at the Air War
College at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala. He uses an IBM Corp. notebook and a
28.8-Kbps IBM PC Card modem—the top-ranked PC Card modem in the GCN survey—to
check e-mail while traveling.

Munyer finds the IBM modem perfectly dependable.

“I had a different card before—I’ve forgotten which brand—and it
constantly overheated,” he said. “It had a very poor heat sink. It would
constantly quit working in the middle of a transmission. So I was looking for something
that was better engineered, and IBM was the choice.”

Reliability is also a big deal for David Cadwell, a telecommunications manager with the
Air National Guard in Sioux City, Iowa, who uses a 3Com Corp./U.S. Robotics PC Card
modem—by far the most popular PC Card modem in the GCN survey. “I need it to
work when I need it,” he said.

3Com PC Card modems are used by 36 percent of the federal market GCN surveyed, easily
outdistancing PC Card modems from Hayes Microcomputer Products Inc. of Norcross, Ga.,
which represented 12 percent of the market.

In the survey’s rankings by brand, PC Card modems from IBM garnered higher
attribute scores from a smaller pool of users (5 percent) to top modems from 3Com, Hayes
and Xircom Inc. of Thousand Oaks, Calif.

The survey also revealed some overall disgruntlement with PC Card modems, as 59 percent
of users thought their modems needed improvement in some way.

Cadwell uses a 33.6-Kbps 3Com PC Card modem on a Gateway Inc. notebook—his only
computer—when he’s on his infrequent business trips.

The modem itself works flawlessly, he said, but he sometimes runs into problems on the
server side.

“When I plug it in, I have more problems with connections to the server than
it’s worth,” he said, lamenting that he finds it easier just to ring up the
office on the telephone to find out what’s going on.

Another 3Com user who likes modem dependability is Frank Baucom, supervisory
coordinator with the Fish and Wildlife Service in Phoenix

“Real plug and play is definitely the main advantage,” said Baucom, who uses
a 33.6-Kbps 3Com PC Card modem with a Gateway notebook mainly to check e-mail.

Second, he said, is ease of use. “It shouldn’t be difficult to install,
maintain and keep running,” he said.

“The 3Com has always been easy to configure. I’ve never had any problems with
it to speak of,” said K.O. Smith, an analyst with the Postal Inspection Service in
Dulles, Va. A 100 percent notebook user, Smith docks his Digital Equipment Corp. notebook
at the office and uses a 3Com 28.8-Kbps PC Card modem about once a week.

Hayes users in our survey generally found the modem easy to set up and install and
voiced no major complaints.

Among Xircom users, Ted Tupper, ADP manager at the Interior Department’s Minerals
Management Service in Herndon, Va., logs on to the Internet or accesses the office LAN
from home with his Dell Computer Corp. notebook and a 33.6-Kbps modem.

“Reliability is the main thing,” he said. “I don’t want to think
about the modem.” Setting it up was easy. “We had no problems installing
it,” he said. “We did try to put in a network PC Card and were unsuccessful, but
that’s a separate issue.”

At the Census Bureau in Suitland, Md., Timothy Ruland, chief of ADP security, uses his
Compaq Computer Corp. notebook and a Xircom 33.6-Kbps modem to access his office network
when away.

He likes its stability. “It seems to work fine,” he said.

Throughput speed wasn’t a major issue for most feds GCN talked with.

“I don’t dial in that often, so it’s not like I need a super-fast
connection or anything,” said Ruland, echoing the general sentiment of other survey

The survey established that 35 percent of users had PC Card modems running at a maximum
transmission speed of 28.8 Kbps, 32 percent at 33.6 Kbps and 30 percent at 56 Kbps.  


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