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USR taps into cable modems

The largest U.S. manufacturer of consumer modems will make the leap to cable modems. Some are calling it a validation of the market.

The largest manufacturer of consumer modems in the United States, U.S. Robotics (USRX), is now set to jump into cable modems.

U.S. Robotics said today they intend to provide cable companies with all the equipment and software needed to provide consumers with Internet access over cable television networks. The company will unveil its system later this month at the National Cable Television Association "Cable 97" industry trade show in New Orleans.

"This is a final acknowledgment that [cable modem] technology is seen as viable by a company outside the cable industry space," said Emily Green, a communications industry analyst with Forrester Research. Until recently, cable companies have not been seen as credible online service providers because of the industry's overall reputation for poor service, according to Green.

"When the largest maker of analog modems is finally seeing the future in cable modems, it has to be a big endorsement for the technology," Green notes.

Industry analysts say that technical challenges in addition to the high cost of infrastructure upgrades have slowed the introduction of online access over cable. With the successful deployment of limited service by companies such as Time Warner Cable, with its RoadRunner service, Continental Cablevision, and @Home, the opportunity is opening up for a big-name modem manufacturer to step in and supply equipment.

In fact, Hayes Microcomputer, another large manufacturer of communications equipment, already has announced that it is stepping in to the market. But U.S. Robotic's entrance is "a huge stamp of viability" for the industry, according to Green.

Initially, U.S. Robotics says that the cable access system is compatible with current network infrastructures--and subsequently easier and less expensive to implement. USR says their system uses the existing cable network for high-speed downstream data delivery while using the public switched network for the upstream connection. Currently, most cable companies are only set up to send information, usually in the form of a television show, to viewers.

U.S. Robotics claims the system be easily upgraded to a two-way cable network with the installation of hardware on the cable company site.

The company has formed a new Cable Access Business Unit that will spearhead the company's efforts, to both market the product and represent the company to industry standards organizations.

U.S. Robotics expects to conduct field trials of the system soon, with availability slated for the third or fourth quarter. A two-way cable access system is expected to be available in early 1998.