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Fast modem does double duty

Rockwell develops a chipset for a high-speed DSL modem that will allow consumers to make voice or fax calls while connected to the Net.

Rockwell announced a new chipset that combines high-speed DSL (digital subscriber line) and dial-up modem capabilities while enabling dual usage, the first product to result from a recent partnership with DSL equipment maker PairGain Technologies.

Rockwell said modems with the new chipset will allow consumers to make voice or fax calls while they are simultaneously connected to the Internet or other networks. The dial-up modem could even be used in conjunction with the DSL modem, possibly allowing a user to hook up to different service providers at the same time.

Perhaps more important, Rockwell said the chipset will support the upcoming standard for DSL "lite" modems as well as a variety of faster DSL connection standards. DSL lite modems will reduce the cost and hassle of DSL service by eliminating the need for a telephone company to install a piece of equipment called the "splitter."

Modems with the Rockwell chipset would have maximum downstream transmission rates as high as 1 mbps and upstream speeds of 128 kbps over standard copper phone lines, and could be continuously connected to a network. The dial-up modem included in Rockwell's chipset can operate at a maximum rate of about 53 kbps.

Currently, typical DSL services are considered to be too expensive for mass deployment to consumers, but with the advent of DSL lite modems, the market for DSL chipsets is expected to grow rapidly as more Internet users and businesses clamor for multi-megabit access speeds. PC vendors such as Dell already have plans to make DSL modems an option on some systems by the end of the year, using chipsets from other companies.

Analysts say a tentative international standard for DSL lite modems could be reached as early as October 1998. A standard is an important milestone, since customers will be able to purchase products from a wide array of vendors that can communicate with each other, thus ensuring competitive prices and ideally a bigger overall market.

Rockwell expects to have sample chipsets available by fall, but in the meantime limited prototypes will be shipping to some equipment makers. Volume production is slated for the first quarter of 1999 at a price of $67.50 in 10,000 unit volumes.

Rockwell licensed some of the basic technology used in the new chipsets from PairGain in a deal announced in March.