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Firms line up for 56-kbps chips

As Rockwell Semiconductor begins shipments of its 56-kbps modem chips, the company says it has already lined up a long list of customers.

As Rockwell Semiconductor (ROK) begins shipments of its 56-kbps modem chips, the company says it has lined up a long list of customers for the technology.

Rockwell is competing with U.S Robotics (USRX) 56-kbps technology. U.S. Robotics says it expects to announce new products in the Sportster line based on their x2 technology the first two weeks of February, with software updates for older modems also available at that time.

Rockwell claims modem manufacturers will begin introducing products in March using Rockwell K56 modem chips. Samples of its chips have shipped to more than 130 customers and it is on schedule to begin production in February, the company said.

"By mid-1997, our customers expect that they will have deployed several million K56 connections throughout the nation," said Dwight Decker, Rockwell Semiconductor Systems president in a written statement.

Rockwell released a list of vendors that included modem manufacturers and their schedules for deploying 56-kbps technology. Vendors with expected shipments by the end of the second quarter total over 100, according to the company.

These companies include Cisco Systems, Boca Research, Hayes Microcomputer, Creative Labs, Daewoo Telecom, Digicom, Fujitsu Taiwan, Mitac Incorporated, Shiva, LG Electronics, and Samsung Electronics.

In November of last year, Rockwell announced with Lucent Technologies that the two companies would make their 56-kbps modem chipsets interoperable. Then, in December, leading PC OEMs including AST Computer, Compaq, Hewlett-Packard, and Toshiba indicated that they will support the two companies' standard.

However, a number of problems still remain for 56-kbps modem technology in general. A standard for the technology is needed so that modems from different manufacturers can talk to each other. The U.S. Telecommunications Industry Association isn't expected to ratify a standard until late this year, meaning that consumers will have to make sure the modems they buy can communicate with modems used by their service provider to attain the high speed.

Moreover, modems may be limited to a download speed of 53 kbps. Federal Communications Commission regulations "limit the signal level" that digitally connected server equipment can transmit, effectively limiting download speed. Lucent and Rockwell potentially face this limit, although the two companies have not shared the results of their tests of the new technology yet.

Also, in order to achieve the higher speeds, the broad availability of 56-kbps-capable modems only gets users halfway there. These modems can only work at top speeds if users can connect to a compatible high-speed modem at their Internet service providers.