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3Com first to ship standardized fast modems

Meanwhile, 3Com and Rockwell say they have finished testing that ensures 56-kbps modems from both companies are compatible.

    3Com (COMS) today became the first vendor to ship a 56-kbps modem based on the new international standard.

    Meanwhile, 3Com and longtime arch-rival Rockwell Semiconductor (ROK) appear to have finally settled their differences, saying they have finished testing that ensures 56-kbps modems from both companies are compatible.

    But just because the modems work together now doesn't mean that the one-upsmanship that has characterized the modem industry throughout 1997 is over.

    3Com is claiming the bragging rights as the first vendor to ship 56-kbps modems for consumers based on the newly minted "v.90" industry standard. The v.90 specification was adopted just over a week ago by the International Telecommunications Union, ending nearly a year of fighting between Rockwell and 3Com's incompatible modem technologies.

    Rockwell last week said it was first to ship software updates for the v.90 modems to its commercial customers, companies such as Ascend and Hayes. In turn, they are expected to ship upgrades to ISPs (Internet service provider) and consumers by late February or March.

    Last year, 3Com and Rockwell fought tooth and nail to promote their incompatible x2 and K56flex 56-kbps modem technologies, respectively. But today both agreed at a press conference that modems which can connect to each other is the best strategy for the industry.

    "All of the energy that 3Com has been channeling into the promotion of x2 is now being channeled into the promotion of v.90. There is a tremendous amount of energy behind a standard that we believe will make a consumer's life much easier" and will also make the modem industry grow, said John McCartney, president of the Client Access Business unit at 3Com.

    Dwight Decker, president of Rockwell Semiconductor Systems, agreed. "This is a significant step for the modem industry after a difficult 1997," he said.

    Difficult indeed. The major modem manufacturers have been offering modems since early 1997 that can deliver data at up to a theoretical limit of 56 kbps, about twice the speed of widely used 28.8-kbps modems. But most modem companies struggled as some potential buyers sat on the sidelines waiting for the standards battle to play out. (See related story)

    Even now, analysts don't expect consumers to jump right into the market until their ISPs have finished upgrading to the new 56-kbps technology, an event that could be 8 to 12 weeks off.

    The good news is that users finally aren't locked into a single, proprietary standard. Rockwell says its new chips will allow any modem to connect using either the v.90 standard or the older K56flex technology, and 3Com's modems can connect using either the v.90 standard or the X2 technology.

    3Com says information on software upgrades for older modems should be available to consumers by the end of February. A number of ISPs, meanwhile, are already testing 3Com's software on their systems, the company says.