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Motorola ships software modems

Motorola launches a new software-based modem it hopes will help win its way inside new PCs.

LAS VEGAS--Motorola recently moved out of the retail market for modems, but today the company launched a new software-based modem it hopes will help win its way inside new PCs.

Motorola announced it has started shipping its K56flex-based 56-kbps software modems for use in new PC systems by original equipment manufacturers (OEMs).

Software-based modems use the computer's main microprocessor for computing power rather than a set of special modem chips or a separate digital signal processor (DSP). Because fewer chips are needed, they are less expensive and easier to upgrade than traditional hardware modems.

Motorola says it is committed to the OEM market for modems, and that software will be the key to this market in the future.

"We really just exited a channel. We are still very much committed to the modem market, and software modems are a strategic [technology]," said Michael Tramontano, product marketing manager for Motorola?s Communication Products group in an interview with CNET?s NEWS.COM.

The retail market doesn't provide long-term viability, he said, because systems vendors are looking for ways to reduce system cost--especially on the increasingly popular sub-$1,000 PCs. Integrating modem technologies with sound cards, for example, is one way that designers can save space and money in a new PC, Tramontano noted.

Tramontano said that software modems will offer Motorola a significant advantage over traditional vendors with "hardware" modems, but faces a few hurdles.

Motorola will have to fight some doubts about the technology, which industry analysts have said has proven to be slower and less reliable. Motorola is countering the perceived performance problem with results of independent lab tests by the National Software Testing Labs which it says shows the software modem has equivalent or better performance than a traditional modem.

Motorola will be vying for business against the likes of Lucent Technologies for OEM "design wins," or manufacturers' orders. Lucent has long been a strong player in the OEM market, and supplies modem chipsets to the likes of Compaq and Hewlett-Packard.

Lucent and 3Com's U.S. Robotics too are in the process of developing a software modem, and two smaller companies, PC-Tel and SmartLink, also have software-based modems for the OEM market.

AltoCom, a spin-off from General Magic, is making its own moves into the modem market with a software-based modem technology for set-top boxes, handheld devices, and fax machines. AltoCom's software modem is already shipping in Philips' Velo1 handheld device, another product segment that Motorola will be targeting with its technology.

Motorola's Tramontano is confident, however, saying that vendors are looking for credible players who have a broad portfolio of intellectual property that can be used in a number of projects. For instance, Motorola has a strong background in wireless technologies for handheld devices, he says.

Motorola says the software modem includes a full-duplex speakerphone, answering machines and fax capabilities. The Windows 95 version is available to OEMs, while a follow-on release for Windows NT will be available next month, with support added in both versions for video conferencing capabilities.