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Pentium III part of software DSL modems

Integrated Telecom Express hopes next week's rollout will highlight its technology for reducing the cost of high-speed digital subscriber line modems.

The PC industry seems to have been underwhelmed by Intel's upcoming Pentium III chip, but a company called Integrated Telecom Express hopes next week's rollout will highlight its technology for reducing the cost of digital subscriber line (DSL) modems.

Yesterday at the Intel media event in San Jose, Integrated Telecom Express (Itex) took occasion to show off a "host-based" DSL modem that can download data at speeds reaching 1.5 mbps (megabits per second) and send data at a rate of 512 kbps (kilobits per second). Both speeds are many times quicker than current dial-up modems.

Itex said its product, sometimes called a "software" modem, uses the power of the main processor rather than the separate microprocessor and memory normally required by a standalone DSL modem device. That drives down cost. Not coincidentally, the new Pentium III includes 70 new instructions that programs can use to speed multimedia and communications functions.

Meanwhile, Alcatel and Efficient Networks announced an agreement to codevelop and market DSL modems that hook up to PCs via USB connectors, and MiraLink readied the release of software that lets multiple users in home and small-office settings share Internet connections.

Itex is targeting the year's first quarter as a release date for its host-based modems, with a version for notebooks in the pipeline as well. Even with product available, though, PC manufacturers are not likely to widely adopt the technology until standards for DSL modems are in place and service becomes more widely available.

The industry is working on a standard, called "G.lite" which is a slower-speed version of ADSL that is more consumer friendly, as well as able to dial in to any service provider's central office equipment. The standard is expected to be ratified by the International Telecommunication Union in June, with products based on the standard coming later this summer.

Intel's primary interest in software DSL modems lies in driving sales of its chips. In fact, Intel is interested enough to have invested an undisclosed amount of money in Itex last year. This is because having software that takes advantage of the Pentium III's new features presumably drives interest in getting new Pentium III PCs, while lower-cost technology for high bandwidth connections would likewise encourage people to download processor-intensive multimedia content.

Intel is involved in a number of similar efforts to migrate formerly discrete functions into the main processor. For instance, the company has demonstrated Pentium processors playing back DVD movie titles without the need for a separate MPEG-2 playback chip, and is working with companies to develop software-based cable modems, another high-speed Net access tool.

Meanwhile, in related news, Alcatel and Efficient Networks said that under terms of their agreement, they will combine engineering resources to develop advanced ADSL modems for the consumer market that offer "plug and play" USB connections. The companies said they are nearing completion of a line of products which will be compatible with Alcatel's central office equipment.

Also, MiraLink of Salt Lake City, Utah, will announce next week software that lets multiple users share Internet connections. Its Nshare product makes a central PC act like a server to share available bandwidth between computers connected via a standard network or serial cable connection. Installation of the software requires no configuration and is performed in less than one minute, the company claims.

"You can buy a number of separate programs and set these things up yourself, but have to know how to do it. The complicated thing [our software does] is make it transparent," said Ron McCabe, president of MiraLink.

The program will be priced from $39.95 for hooking up one computer to up to $99.95 for an unlimited licensing agreement. Nshare can support five or six users when connected with an analog modem and up to 25 users with a cable modem or DSL connection, the company said.