Modem maker hears V.92's call to action

There will be plenty of waves for analog modems to surf, thanks to a new dial-up modem standard--and U.S. Robotics' plans to bring one of the first boards to the beach.

Richard Shim Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Richard Shim
writes about gadgets big and small.
Richard Shim
3 min read
The PC modem is far from dead, thanks to a new dial-up standard that promises increased speed and other features that partially narrow the performance gap with broadband services.

U.S. Robotics announced Wednesday that it has completed testing of modems based on the new V.92 standard, ratified late last year by the International Telecommunication Union. The modem chipmaker plans to ship products by the end of the first quarter.

The new standard increases the upload speed of data transmissions, allows a data call to be put on hold to take an inbound voice call, and shortens the time it takes to make a connection.

It also should help ensure that the industry is not standing over the grave of dial-up technology.

"There is still a lot of room for the acceptance of dial-up modems," said Roger Kay, an analyst at IDC. "A majority of home and small offices are still and will continue to get online through dial-up modems."

Recent figures from Gartner suggest that dial-up modems will be around for a while. Data from the research firm indicates that 55 percent of all people getting online will be doing so through dial-up connections even by the year 2004.

The reasons are simple, according to Amy Helland, an analyst at Cahners In-Stat Group.

Analog dial-up modems are the only truly ubiquitous method of getting online, she said, because all someone needs is a phone line and because with no additional service fees or set-up procedures, as with DSL or cable connections, it's also the easiest.

"The horse hasn't made it to the glue factory just yet," said Kevin Lacey, a director of product development at U.S. Robotics, referring to the life expectancy of analog dial-up modems.

The venerable modem maker itself last year got a new outlook on life when it re-emerged from the corporate fold at networking company 3Com, in a joint venture involving 3Com, Accton Technology and NatSteel Electronics. It named Van Andrews, a former Gateway executive, as CEO in July.

Hold that thought
The V.92 standard allows someone online to place a data transmission on hold to take a voice call, then re-establish the data transmission without losing the connection. ISPs will likely determine how long a call can be placed on hold. Rob Thomsen, a product line manager at U.S. Robotics, expects that hold times most likely will be two minutes.

The standard also shortens the time it takes to get a connection by storing information about the phone line. Each time a dial-up connection is made, the modem undergoes a training sequence to determine the most efficient route to connect to the ISP's server. By remembering that information, it should take about half as long to establish a connection.

Probably most significant for dial-up modem users is the ability to adjust transfer speeds. Under the V.90 standard, the best-case scenario for data transmissions from the server to the client is 56Kbps, and from the client to the server is 33.6Kbps. Under the V.92 standard, upstream transmission of data, from client to server, can be as fast as 48Kbps.

U.S. Robotics will allow modem users to set their modems to favor either the downstream or upstream transmission or to balance the two.

U.S. Robotics also will offer V.90 modem owners a free software upgrade to the V.92 standard by the end of the month. External modems using the V.92 standard will be available off the retail shelf by the end of the first quarter for just over $100. PC Card versions will hit the streets within the next three months.

Cahners' Helland expects ISPs to upgrade their servers to the V.92 standard gradually over the next three months.