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3Com, Alcatel work on DSL

The idea is to make sure customers can purchase compatible modem products, ensuring more competitive prices and hopefully a bigger market.

3Com and Alcatel announced they have agreed to make their competing DSL (digital subscriber line) products work together.

The news stands as more evidence that companies in this segment of the "broadband" market are willing to cooperate to promote the technology's growth. The idea is to make certain that customers can purchase products from a wide array of vendors with the confidence that they will interoperate, thus ensuring more competitive prices and hopefully a bigger market.

DSL allows users to receive voice and data simultaneously over regular phone lines at speeds ranging from 1.5 to 9 Mbps--speeds that are 30 to 50 times faster than today's 56-kbps dial-up modems. However, DSL products from different companies can't communicate with each other, meaning ISPs (Internet service providers) and phone companies typically must buy both central site equipment and end-user modems from the same company.

In lieu of a worldwide standard for DSL technology, a number of companies have begun working together. In March, Alcatel, Analog Devices and Texas Instruments said they too would test their DSL products for compatibility.

"Standardized, interoperable ADSL is key to the continued growth of the ADSL market," said Rick Edson, senior vice president of 3Com's New Business Initiatives, in a prepared statement. "Interoperability in the ADSL market is critical in ensuring that customers [can buy equipment] without reservation or concern about incompatibility," he said.