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Confab explores DSL, cable

An analyst at the BancAmerica Robertson Stephens event argues DSL will win over cable in the high-speed Net access race.

    In the race to provide high-speed data access to Internet users, DSL will win over cable modems, an analyst at a BancAmerica Robertson Stephens conference on the subject said today.

    That's because copper networks already are entrenched, and businesses will want to leverage their existing investments in copper, said Paul Johnson, a communications and networking analyst at Robertson Stephens.

    Johnson's comments came during the first day of a two-day conference in San Francisco focusing on e-commerce and the Net. The conference will feature presentations from companies such as E*Trade, Intuit, and CyberCash.

    The tug-of-war between DSL and cable modems is a closely watched battle, and nobody knows for sure which side will prevail. Johnson said his prediction of a DSL victory has less to do with the merits of DSL and more to do with the existing copper infrastructure.

    "Nobody has love or hate for DSL. They don't care, but it's got to be copper because you can't dig it up," he said. "What we have done with electronics for 30 years in communications is make copper more DSL is just an extension of a 30-year trend that won't stop.

    "It's too expensive to change the lines," Johnson added. "As you get critical mass behind some of the vendors, DSL wins for sure."

    DSL carries data at high speeds over standard copper telephone lines, and allows users to surf the Net and talk on the phone at the same time, making it especially attractive for the home and small-office workplace.

    Cable modems, meanwhile, are gaining popularity, and some heavyweight investors are betting on cable companies to provide expanded services in the future. For example, Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen agreed to buy Charter Communications last week, and Microsoft invested $1 billion in Comcast last year. (Allen is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network, which publishes

    National Net access provider @Home, for its part, will offer DSL service to small businesses later this year, even though it remains committed to cable modems.

    Confusion over standards, including ADSL, DSL Lite, and VDSL, poses an obstacle, but Johnson said those issues will "resolve themselves in six to 12 months, for sure."