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Faster modems for consumers

NetSpeed, a Texas-based company, says it wants to play in the emerging market for "consumerized" ADSL modems.

NetSpeed, a Texas-based remote access equipment company, says it wants to play in the emerging market for "consumerized" ADSL (asymmetric digital subscriber line) modems, devices that are as easy to install as today's analog modems yet offer much faster access speeds.

ADSL technology has been slow to catch on in the consumer market, not only because service as well as the modems are expensive, but also because it is complicated to install. Generally, service technicians come out to a site to install a network interface card and other equipment on a user's computer. Users must then connect to a telephone company which has compatible ADSL equipment at its end.

NetSpeed has introduced a technology it calls "EZ-DSL" that eliminates the need for a piece of equipment called a splitter--a device that allows voice phone calls to be made over the same line which data is being transmitted on--but still allows the modem to be connected to the Internet or network over today's copper phone lines.

"This cuts the cost of provisioning for the phone company, and makes broadband services mass-deployable," says Bob Locklear, director of technology for NetSpeed.

Other companies are working on similar technologies. Rockwell (ROK) has demonstrated technology it calls "CDSL," or consumer DSL, and the industry in general is working on a standardized technology referred to generically as "DSL lite." However, these technologies are limited to transmission speeds of 1 mbps "downstream"--data to the user's modem--while "upstream" transmission rates--data sent out from the user's modem--can reach 128 kbps.

While these rates are far faster than today's fastest analog modems, which offer transmission at a maximum rate of 56 kbps, NetSpeed says that its modems will be able to achieve rates of up to 7 mbps downstream and 1 mbps upstream, on par with DSL modems that require a splitter. The modems also have the ability to transmit at different speeds depending on the type of service the user has paid for, potentially allowing for lower cost access plans to be offered by service providers.

The drawback is that modems based on EZ-DSL technology still cost more expensive than most consumers are likely to pay.

NetSpeed's Locklear says the company will address this issue in March of 1998 with the introduction of a $199 EZ-DSL modem that plugs into a computer's PCI (peripheral component interconnect) slot.