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Dell revs fast PC modem strategy

The computer maker says its consumer PCs will come equipped with high-speed modems from 3Com.

Dell Computer continues its push to offer more personal computers with faster Internet connections, now a crucial performance yardstick, by announcing today that its consumer PCs will come equipped with high-speed modems from 3Com.

In adding Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) and cable modems from 3Com as an option on its home PC line, Dell is sending a clear message that high-speed Internet access is becoming as important as fancy hardware in differentiating high-end PCs.

Dell's Dimension line of PCs will offer 3Com cable modems and DSL modems for use with @Home's broadband service and SBC Communications DSL service, respectively.

Dell's decision to broaden its offering of high-speed connectivity options to home users is indicative of the PC industry's growing recognition that Internet use is one of the primary drivers of PC sales from here on out, analysts say.

Today's announcement expands Dell's offering in this area. Earlier this month, the Round Rock, Texas-based direct PC vendor announced that its Dimension line of home PCs will offer high-speed DSL modems from Cisco Systems as a build-to-order option for use with US West's DSL service.

"Just like with cell phone companies, there is not one type of protocol--not all modems will work with all services," said a Dell spokesman, explaining why Dell is continuing to add different modems for use with different services. "There is no one size fits all protocol or technology."

Because DSL and cable modem availability vary widely from state to state, only configure-to-order vendors can effectively offer such pricey add-ons, said Lisa Pelgrim, a Dataquest analyst. Dell and Compaq, which also recently announced a similar service for its build-to-order home PC customers, are able to pinpoint which services are available in each customer's area, and avoid shipping cable or DSL modems to areas that lack such services.

"For Dell, it works out very well, because they're not putting [modems] into products that people don't need," Pelgrim said, explaining that a PC maker like IBM will have a harder time offering built-in cable and DSL modems. "From an inventory perspective, it makes life much easier."

3Com internal modems will be available on the Dimension line early next year. Pricing has not yet been determined, but is expected to follow the $199 premium for Cisco modems.

"On some of the high-end products we are going to see the high-speed options, but not on sub-$1,000 lines," said Pelgrim, who noted that despite the growing popularity of DSL and cable modems, analog 56-kbps modems are not going away any time soon. "Analog is still the lowest common denominator."