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Intel, MS, Compaq tell of DSL plan

The three companies describe a consortium that will promote technology for high-speed Internet access.

Calling the event nothing less than a "copper renaissance," three of high technology's most influential companies and a host of telecommunications companies and equipment vendors today announced a strategy for promoting high-speed Internet access on the existing telephone infrastructure.

Intel, Microsoft, Compaq, How real is DSL? and a consortium of telephone providers including US West and SBC Communications detailed a plan for installing and implementing "splitterless" asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL) technology at Comnet, a telecommunications conference.

The companies will work together to promote the technology as a part of a consortium called the "Universal ADSL Working Group (UAWG), it was announced today.

"This represents a copper renaissance for US West and for the other Bell companies," said Joe Zell, president of US West's Enterprise Networking group.

With the so-called Universal or DSL lite technology, data can be delivered to a home user at a rate of up to 1.5 megabits per second (mbps), which is around 30 times faster than can be delivered through 56-kbps modem technology.

DSL allows users to receive voice and data simultaneously, which means that small offices can leave computers plugged into the Net without interrupting phone connections. Telcos can now "begin offering what we could refer to as next-generation plain old telephone service (POTS) under auspices of Webtone or IP dialtone," Zell said, with "Webtone" referring to the Internet equivalent of a dial tone.

It will be a few years before widespread numbers of people have access to the service, however.

"We certainly would expect to see some early deployment [of DSL lite] as early as late this year...but realistically, we believe mass deployments of this type of technology will find its way place over the next couple of years," said Kevin Kahn, a director with Intel's Architecture Labs.

For all its appeal, today's DSL technologies have not been widely adopted yet because phone companies have to send out service teams to install specialized equipment called a splitter at a subscriber's location. Also, new equipment is needed at the phone company's main site. DSL services currently offered enable users to download information at even higher speeds than DSL lite, but the service is pricier than most consumers are willing to pay, too, with charges ranging from around $70 to over $250 a month.

As previously reported, members of the UAWG will promote DSL lite as a way to overcome these obstacles. Using this technology, no new equipment has to be installed at the customer's residence, apart from a DSL modem.

Because of the lower installation and service costs, monthly DSL service is expected to be more competitively priced, ranging from $35 to $45. Modems are expected to run in the $200-plus range.

Other companies participating in the group include communications such chip companies as Texas Instruments, Rockwell, Alcatel Telecom, Ariel Corporation, Ericsson Telecom AB, GlobeSpan Technologies, and Nortel.

Participating telcos include Ameritech, Bell Atlantic, GTE, MCI, and BellSouth.