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Fast modems, slow upgrades

U.S. Robotics was first to market with 56-kbps modems, but some users are complaining that they haven't been able to upgrade older modems.

U.S. Robotics may have been at the leading edge as the first to market with 56-kbps modems, but the company appears to be lagging in its effort to deliver upgrades to older modems.

U.S. Robotics has been offering software upgrades for slower modems to the x2 56-kbps technology for most modem models. Though the company made available upgrades for most of its product line, upgrades for the Sportster Winmodem products, originally slated to be available in late April, have slipped several times, according to customers.

USR recently merged with 3Com (COMS).

"USR has delayed the upgrade so many times I've lost count," says one customer. The company says the upgrade started shipping to customers on June 9 and should be available in retail stores soon. It is also available on the company's Web site for downloading.

As for the delays, Burk Murray, product line manager for the Sportster modems, said "testing for the Winmodems was more complex than anticipated. It has to be tested on all versions of Windows as well as various Intel processors, he said.

"We didn't feel it had been fully tested, so we decided to take our time and roll in improvements to get better performance in order to be sure it didn't have any troubles," Murray added.

One customer who was finally able to get the upgrade wrote in an email to CNET'S NEWS.COM: "It took a long time, and I was very frustrated with their customer service. Several times they gave me release dates on the phone, but it was clear that the people manning the phones had no idea what I was really asking for." Another claimed calling USR technical support lines three times in one hour and getting three different answers about when the upgrade would ship.

Murray said that they have had to add help from outside call centers, and that has led to some problems. "We've had a lapse in training customer support personnel on all of our product ship dates, but I feel like we're past those now. We've certainly learned a lot during this whole process. The response [to the upgrade program] has exceeded expectations. While we expected enthusiasm, what we got was pandemonium."

Making upgrades available on time isn't the only difficulty USR has had in recent months. NEWS.COM reported in April that some customers had difficulty trading in their old modems for faster models. At that time, customers complained they had been given inaccurate information about whether they were eligible for a free upgrade.

In response, USR said it had staffed additional people and added phone capacity to handle customer requests.

The modem maker isn't alone in struggling with getting new modem technology to customers. Also in April, some modem companies using Rockwell Semiconductor's (ROK) competing K56flex technology had to hold back modem shipments until May due to problems with chipsets.