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Lucent touts high-speed modem

Later this year, Lucent will year release a new technology that radically boosts downloading speeds but doesn't require major investments or equipment overhauls.

Lucent Technologies will later this year release a new modem technology that radically boosts downloading speeds, but doesn't require major capital investments or equipment overhauls to work.

Called WildWire, the new technology is Lucent's stab at ADSL, or asymmetric digital subscriber line, which many say will be the next battleground for modem makers.

WildWire will allow data to be downloaded at 1.5 megabits per second (mbps), many times the data rate of current high-end modems, which download data at a maximum rate of 56 kilobits per second (kbps). WildWire will also allow users to maintain a continuous Internet link without interrupting telephone service.

Importantly, users will not incur additional installation fees. WildWire and other "ADSL lite" technology reduces costs by cutting out the specialized installation requirements, according to Ken Brizel, strategic marketing manager for DSL products at Lucent. To get ADSL service, customers will merely have to buy a computer with an ADSL modem and sign up with telephone carrier that provides ADSL service. No technicians have to visit the house.

ADSL technology has been slow to catch on in the consumer market because of the expenses associated with installation and equipment. Generally, service technicians have to come out to a site to install a network interface card and other equipment on a user's computer. Users must then connect to a telephone company which has compatible ADSL equipment at its end.

ADSL service will likely only cost $5 to $10 more than current Internet service, said Will Strauss, president of Forward Concepts. Telephone operators, moreover, will only have to make incremental investments to start providing ADSL service. In turn, this should lead to lower subscription prices.

Equipment costs should be relatively low also, Strauss added. The WildWire chipset will sell for $60 in quantities of 10,000, he said. Modems based on the WildWire or other ADSL chips, meanwhile, will come out at around $200 to $250, but drop subsequently. Dial-up 56-kbps modems, by comparison, should be priced below $100 when ADSL hits the streets.

Interestingly, the shift toward ADSL may bring the telephone carriers deeper into Internet access. The only carriers that will be able to provide ADSL services will be those providing both data and voice transmission services, pointed out Lucent's Brizel.

Although Lucent maintains that WildWire-enabled modems and computers will be available by the end of the year, Strauss said that ASDL modems and connectivity will not likely become a major consumer issue until 1999 because standards have yet to fully evolve. Competitors, including Nortel and Texas Instruments, are currently touting their own ASDL technologies. While their investment will remain relatively low, telephone carriers will not likely begin to push services until a standard is determined.