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56-kbps software modem nears

PCtel will ship a cheap 56-kbps software modem to PC makers by late March that will use MMX technology.

Small Silicon Valley company PCtel will begin shipping a cheap 56-kbps software modem to PC manufacturers by late March, using the processing power of Intel's MMX technology to give the software modem more punch.

The software modem uses the MMX Pentium chip as its processing engine, allowing the company to offer it to customers, such as PC vendors, for as little as $30. This differs from typical modems, which come with costly "dedicated" chips of their own for handling data traffic and connections.

The modem also gives PC makers the flexibility to dodge the emerging battle over which of the incompatible 56-kbps technologies to support, since PCtel's software modem can be adapted with a software upgrade to whatever standard prevails, the company says.

"Whenever anyone decides which standard they're going to with, we can just make a driver change or add the support via software," Ed Villegas, PCtel's applications manager, told CNET. "We don't have to make any changes in the designs."

PCtel is targeting its HSP56 technology for desktop PCs, notebook computers, and handheld PCs, but the only customer it would identify is Oak Technology. The PCT388 56-kbps Host Signal Processing Modem (HSP Modem) chip also will provide data/fax/voice capabilities and HSP Speakerphone functionality.

Priced at $30 for quantities of 10,000, the PCT388 also requires a hardware codec chip. That price to PC vendors means 56-kbps software modems could come to market costing significantly less than the 56-kbps modems offered by typical modem vendors.

PCtel indicated it will work with appropriate standards bodies on a 56-kbps standard but intends to forge ahead with its own HSP56 technology, which can be updated with a new driver once the Telecommunications Industry Association and International Telecommunications Union set a standard.