The battle over who gets to bring broadband to the home is becoming more fierce as a forgettably named technology that runs on regular phone connections--asymmetrical digital subscriber lines--picks up speed.
ADSL is a prime high-speed alternative to cable modems for replacing dial-up access that can often be frustratingly slow, especially for connections to the home. It is the latest player to make a name for itself, despite its bland acronym, in the fight over which industry will control the all-important bandwidth on the Internet, the telephone companies or the cable operators.
ADSL, a variant of another type of technology known as XDSL, can deliver data at
1.5 mbps over a private telephone line and is the weapon the telcos hope to use against the as-yet-unfulfilled promise of cable modems, which could theoretically bring the Internet to the home at speeds up to 10 mbps.
ADSL is also faster than ISDN
(Integrated Services Digital Network), which transmits over the public
switched telephone network at speeds up to 64 kpbs. The fastest standard consumer connections run at speeds of 28.8 kpbs.
This week alone, Cisco Systems, StrataCom, and PairGain Technologies joined together at
the Supercomm telecommunications trade show in Dallas to demonstrate XDSL
technology. In addition, Performance
Telecom announced an ADSL modem, Bell
Canada unveiled plans to launch an ADSL service in the first half of
1997, and European telco equipment
maker Ericsson announced a ADSL modem solution
called Cobra Web.
The telecommunications companies certainly aren't pushing ADSL because it's perfect. But with users desperate for faster connections, the telephone
companies are equally desperate to keep the cable companies away from the
Net access market. And ADSL has the virtue of running over standard copper
phone lines, while cable modem connections will require a new cable
infrastructure to be created.
But that doesn't mean that making ADSL a reality
will be easy. "It's basically ISDN plus plus," said Jerry Michalski, managing editor of Release 1.0, a
technology newsletter based in New York City. "Whatever problems they're
having today in installing ISDN they'll have with ADSL. In addition, there
isn't an ordinary phone company employee who even knows what ADSL stands for."
Still, everyone knows that broadband is where it's at, and networking
companies of all kinds want to be on ADSL in case it wins out over cable.
Cisco, for example, is working with StrataCom and PairGain on a new
technology to be launched sometime next year where Cisco will provide the
routers, StrataCom the high-speed switches, and PairGain the digital
subscriber line modems.
Bell Canada, meanwhile, plans to launch a trial of ADSL service in September
Canadian communities of Kanata, Ontario, and St. Bruno, Qu?bec, where
participants will be able to test ADSL in their homes. Because voice calls
use only one percent of a line's bandwidth, ADSL allows simultaneous voice
and data transmission on the same line without any degradation of service,
according to Bell Canada.
UUNet Canada is also running an
ADSL trial in Canada with Westel, which claims to be
working on modems with transmission speeds of 6mbps downstream and up to
Modem maker Performance Telecom has also announced a 6-mbps ADSL
modem to ship in the third quarter. Prices will range from $1,200 to $2,800
depending upon configuration and volume of purchase. Performance has also
been conducting an ADSL trial north of the border in Edmonton, Alberta.
And for Europeans, an ADSL modem solution called Cobra Web with a download
rate of 768kbps is
expected at the end of the year from Ericsson. The company has not yet set
"I don't think any of [the broadband solutions] are especially
well-designed, but if they get more people connected, I'm happy,"
XDSL Net access gets closer
UUNet tests Westell ADSL
Grove casts doubt on cable
Users stay stuck in Net
ISDN: The speed you need