56-kbps camps join hands

Lucent and 3Com will jointly conduct testing of their 56-kbps modems and modem chip sets for adherence to the forthcoming industry standard.

2 min read
Lucent Technologies and 3Com announced they will join forces on 56-kbps modem standards, quelling--at the least temporarily--a long-standing feud between the two modem camps.

Lucent and 3Com today announced that they will conduct joint testing of their 56-kbps modems and modem chips. The companies are hoping to make a presentation on how the two technologies will become compatible at the February 5-6 meeting of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) in Geneva, Switzerland, where the ITU will vote on a standard.

"We want to come to the meeting with background data about how these products are interoperating," said Neil Clemons, vice president of marketing for 3Com. "Our goal is that we will deliver as much information in advance of the meeting as possible."

Lucent backs the K56flex specification, while 3Com is the main force behind the competing x2 technology. A common standard means consumers would no longer be tied to one proprietary standard. Currently, K56flex and x2 modems are incompatible and each works only if the user's Internet service provider supports the respective standard.

Analysts were surprised that the companies announced the testing before the ITU votes on the compromise standard, which is a mix of the K56flex and x2 technologies. "Normally this would happen after the standard," said Dataquest analyst Lisa Pelgrim. "The race is on," she said, for the release of a standard-compliant 56-kbps modem.

3Com expects to have standard-compliant modems on the market by March of this year, said Clemons. Charlie Hartley, a spokesman for Lucent, said the company expects to start shipping sometime after the ITU meeting in February.

"It's very important that they begin testing," Pelgrim said. "We'll be seeing standard compliant products a little faster."

According to Clemons, both companies will continue to ship products that support their separate technologies, but will begin to support "V.pcm" as a "universal language." Consumers will be able to upgrade via software on the companies' Web sites because both technologies are software-upgradeable, he said.

Both companies declined to comment on pricing for standard-compliant modems, but Hartley did say that new 56-kbps modems will probably follow modem pricing trends. "Prices do seem to go down over time," he said.

One name that was prominently absent from the détente that 3Com and Lucent were hyping was Lucent competitor and modem manufacturer Rockwell, who also makes a K56flex modem.

"We did make an offer to Rockwell for when they have a product that that they're ready to test," said Clemons. According to Pelgrim, while it is important that Lucent and 3Com bury the hatchet to begin shipping a standard-compliant modem, interoperability will not happen until Rockwell joins the testing.