Service providers such as TCI.Net are moving to provide high-speed Internet access without having to lease a proprietary cable modem to consumers. As such, compatible products such as U.S. Robotics' "Cable Modem CMX" are needed so that the devices can "talk" to equipment from a variety of vendors.
Cable modems download data via the same type of cable that hooks into a TV, at much faster speeds than traditional modems.
3Com, with the announcement, becomes one of the first vendors to ship these interoperable modems, also referred to as DOCSIS modems. Since last year, leading cable equipment vendors have been working on making cable modems and equipment used by ISPs compliant with the DOCSIS (Data Over Cable Service Interface Specifications) industry specification. The standardization effort is being headed up by CableLabs, a cable industry consortium.
Once certified, DOCSIS-compliant modems could be purchased by consumers and used with any service provider's equipment. At the moment, some stores in limited areas of the United States carry cable modems for sale, but generally they can be used only with an ISP in that region.
Average cable modem penetration has not eclipsed four percent in markets where it is available, according to William Markey, director of development for 3Com's Cable Access group. By offering standards-based modems at retail and creating marketing campaigns to stimulate demand, service providers are hoping those numbers will increase dramatically.
Susan Marshall, vice president of products and technology for TCI.Net, said that the technology will help cable providers compete against the rollout of digital subscriber line (DSL) service from telcos.
"One of the reasons why we did not wait for DOCSIS-based modems was that we wanted market share. As quickly as we can, though, we will move over to DOCSIS, not only for data services but Internet telephony as well," Marshall said.
TCI.Net earlier this year committed to buying both end-user modems and central office equipment from 3Com. Initially, the modems will be leased to consumers, as is the current practice, but by next year more consumers will be buying modems from stores.
The 3Com U.S. Robotics Cable Modem CMX is currently available at a suggested retail price of $319. An internal version of the modem with ethernet capability is priced at $359.99. These products are available from cable operators and select retail stores.