New modems can boost your dial-up service'well, maybe

J.B. Miles

I live in rural Hawaii and make my living via the Internet. But high-speed broadband Internet services such as cable and digital subscriber lines aren't available in my part of paradise, so I use a dial-up connection via an analog modem.

Most of the time I have no problem with the limited speeds'about 44 Kbps on a good day'but problems crop up when I'm on a tight deadline and need to download several hundred pages.

So my interest was piqued when I read about V.92-V.44 modems that reportedly can deliver compressed throughput speeds exceeding 300 Kbps. These new modems offer much quicker connections than standard 56-Kbps V.90 modems'and you can take phone calls while remaining online.

I jumped on the Internet as fast as my V.90 modem would allow to find out more.

Indeed, V.92-V.44 modems are available for as little as $99 from more than a dozen manufacturers, and you can easily buy them online or at retail computer outlets. And they do come with some very cool features that might make them worth a good look. But there also are reasons why the new modems, at first, sound too good to be true.

V.92 is the new dial-up specification from the International Telecommunication Union. It adds three new features to analog modems: quick connect, modem-on-hold and PCM upstream.

Quick Connect halves the time it takes for the modem to make a handshake with another modem'to 12 seconds or less'by remembering the phone line characteristics and storing them for later use.

Modem-on-hold lets you use the same phone line for voice and data without breaking an Internet connection. But you need call waiting, and your Internet service provider dictates how long you can put a data connection on hold before it cuts the Internet connection off during a phone call. Be sure you get more than a few seconds; up to four or five minutes is better.

PCM upstream boosts upstream data rates from a few kilobytes per second to a maximum of 48 Kbps. This effectively reduces the upload times for large text files, e-mail attachments, photo files or video clips.

So far so good. But what about faster throughput?

This is where the V.44 portion of the V.92-V.44 designation comes in, at least theoretically. The new link-layer compression standard developed by Hughes Network Systems Inc. of Germantown, Md., offers a higher compression ratio than the V.42 compression standard used in today's V.90 modems.

But how much additional throughput do you get? Conexant Systems Inc. of Newport Beach, Calif., concluded that most users downloading HTML files from the Web would see throughput increase by 20 to 60 percent, with 26 percent being typical. That would boost my dial-up throughput rate of about 44 Kbps to between 53 and 70 Kbps. This is OK, but hardly the quantum leap to 300 Kbps claimed in some reports.

Even if you accept the limited performance improvements, be sure to check with your Internet provider first. My hopes were dashed when I found out that most Internet providers, including my own, don't support the new modem technology.

So I can't get DSL or cable Internet services. And there's no use in my buying a new V.92-V.44 modem until my own Internet provider supports it, which could be never. Maybe I'll buy that $1,800 two-way satellite dish with the $79 monthly usage fee after all. n

J.B. Miles of Pahoa, Hawaii, writes about communications and computers. E-mail him at [email protected]

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