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Compaq, MS, Intel to detail DSL

Three of high tech's most influential companies, as well as a host of partners, will converge in Washington to describe plans for jump-starting high-speed access.

Three of the high technology's most influential companies, as well as a host of partners, will converge in Washington on Monday to outline a strategy for jump-starting high-speed Internet access on the existing telephone infrastructure.

Intel, Microsoft, Compaq, How real is DSL? and a consortium of telephone providers are expected to broadly outline a plan for installing and implementing "splitterless" digital subscriber line (DSL) technology at Comnet, a telecommunications conference.

Communication chip vendors such as Texas Instruments and modem manufacturers are additionally expected to announce product strategies to implement DSL.

As part of Compaq's participation, the No.1 PC vendor will launch a pilot program for DSL in Michigan for its Presario home computers in the second quarter with Ameritech. Intel is expected to make a push for DSL based on its Universal Serial Bus (USB) technology, now present on most new PCs. USB is a connection "port" on the back of PCs for plugging in peripheral devices, including future DSL modems.

DSL technology essentially accelerates the rate at which data can travel across copper phone lines. With DSL, data can be delivered to a user at home at a rate of 1.5 megabits per second (mbps), which is around 30 times faster than can be delivered through 56-kbps modem technology. DSL also allows users to receive voice and data simultaneously, which means that small offices can leave computers plugged into the Net without interrupting phone connections.

Unfortunately, it is also currently expensive because carriers have to send out service teams to install specialized equipment called a splitter at a subscriber's location. Some of the telcos charge close to $150 per month for DSL service that runs at 384-kbps service, sources say, while the charge for 1.5-mbps/384-kbps receive/send capability is around $250 a month.

Enter splitterless DSL, or DSL lite. Under this technology, the service call is eliminated. Instead, the user merely has to buy a DSL modem and select a provider that has incrementally upgraded its infrastructure for DSL service.

Because of the lower installation and service costs, monthly DSL service is expected to run $30 to $35. Modems for either will run in the $200-plus range.

Although the announcements will occur next week, DSL lite won't be available until later in the year. DSL service probably won't be available until the second half of the year, while modems won't come to the market in numbers until the Q3 or Q4. As mentioned, Compaq will launch a pilot program in Michigan in Q2 with Ameritech.