Tech Industry

Rockwell seeds modem market

Rockwell begins shipping modem chips based on the newly minted 56-kbps standard, hoping to position itself as the market's leading supplier.

The ink has barely dried on the new 56-kbps modem standard and already Rockwell Semiconductor (ROK) has begun to ship new modem chips, hoping to quickly position itself as the market's leading supplier.

Rockwell says its new chips allow any modem to connect using either the freshly minted "v.90" standard or the older K56flex technology. The upshot is that users won't have to be locked into a single, proprietary standard.

This announcement comes in the wake of last week's establishment of a International Telecommunications Union preliminary standard that will allow 56-kbps modems to communicate with each other.

Rockwell has been able to ship chipsets already because it had people in Geneva, Switzerland, that were writing new software code as the standards meeting progressed, according to a company spokesperson.

Analysts expect other chipset vendors could have product ready within a short period of time, as most have been developing products based on an earlier version of the standard since December of 1997.

"The stakes for this standard are really important because they give modem manufacturers the green light to get back to business. They have been fighting standards out there and that confuses customer and then [the customers] walk away," said Abner Germanow, a data communications analyst for International Data Corporation.

But users shouldn't expect to see the new v.90 modems right away. First, modem makers such as Hayes have to build new products. Then, they have to test them with other vendors' modems. Finally, it will be some time before Internet service providers (ISP) upgrade their central site equipment, a necessary step before v.90 modems can communicate at the higher speeds promised by vendors.

"From a user standpoint of when they will realize [benefits from the v.90 technology] it will take time...The ISPs have to get their code in the central site upgraded to the new standard," said Moiz Beguwala, vice president and general manager of the personal communications division at Rockwell, in an interview last week with CNET'S NEWS.COM.

It will typically take anywhere from 8 to 12 weeks for ISPs to update their central site equipment, including modems and routers, he said.

The major modem manufacturers have been offering modems since early 1997 that can deliver data at up to a theoretical limit of 56 kbps, about twice the speed of widely used 28.8-kbps modems. On average, tests by CNET's COMPUTERS.COM showed most users should be able to achieve up to 43 kbps, but few will see faster speeds because of limitations inherent in using regular phone lines.

Rockwell says its chipsets are shipping in volume at $42.50 per unit for desktop and central site equipment and $49.50 for PC Card modems.