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Upgrades for 56-kbps modems due

The industry has finally agreed--tentatively--on a standard for 56-kbps modems, and manufacturers are rushing to promise swift, seamless upgrades.

Now that the industry has finally agreed--tentatively--on a standard for 56-kbps modems, manufacturers are falling over themselves to promise swift, seamless upgrades as soon as the technology is available.

Both Cirrus Logic and Diamond Multimedia Systems released statements promising cross-platform upgrades soon. Geoff Ballew, a senior analyst at Dataquest, predicts the handful of other 56-kbps modem manufacturers should be close behind.

"We'll see everyone talk about the ease of upgrading and getting the message out that the incompatibility wars are over," said Ballew. "That's an important message to get out because it responds directly to consumer confusion" created by a lack of a standard.

Since the advent of 56-kbps modems, buyers have had to choose between Rockwell's K56flex technology and a protocol developed by 3Com's U.S.Robotics division, known as x2. Wrangling over intellectual property held up the development of a standard, essentially a guarantee of interoperability, leaving consumers to worry that the technology they chose someday might not connect them to modems using the yet-undetermined standard.

Modems based on K56flex do not currently interoperate with those based on x2.

As reported last week, the industry has reached a tentative agreement on a standard, a development that ought to ease worries over interoperability. Reached at a meeting in Orlando, Florida, the V.pcm standard now heads to the International Telecommunication Union, which is expected to provide a draft in April, a spokesman for Cirrus said.

Assuming that timeline is met, he added, company upgrades will be available in May or June. Most will likely be software upgrades, designed to avoid the hassle of reinstallation and minimize user inconvenience.

Both U.S. Robotics and Cirrus say that end users will be able to download files from their Web sites. These files will contain code that automatically updates the software which drives the modems.

Rockwell, which primarily makes modems used by Internet service providers (ISP), said it will send out the software to the ISPs for upgrade of their so-called "head-end" equipment, as users begin upgrading.