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56-kbps standard expected soon

U.S. Robotics says an international standard for 56-kbps modems could be set by early next year.

U.S Robotics (USRX) expects an international standard for 56-kbps modems to be set by early next year, the company said at a press conference today.

USR has been pushing hard to get a standard set by the International Telecommunications Union to continue the momentum it gained by being first to market with the faster modems.

If the new 56-kbps standard is similar enough to x2, it might give the Skokie, Illinois-based modem maker--already No. 1 in the United States and world market for consumer modems--an even greater advantage in the race to dominate 56-kbps sales.

Since standards have not yet been set, modems using USR's x2 technology don't operate with modems based on Rockwell and Lucent K56flex technology.

"We're very confident that this is a move that eliminates any remaining confusion [over communications standards]. We believe there's only one international standard," said Casey Cowell, chairman and CEO of U.S. Robotics, referring to other efforts by Rockwell and Lucent to push their K56flex technology through a U.S standards body, the Telecommunications Industry Association.

Rockwell says that, contrary to popular belief, USR hasn't gained any competitive edge by working first with the International Telecommunications Union.

"Each of us is proposing specific technologies for separate sections of the standard. And proposals are coming in from a variety of other companies. When it all comes out, it will be a collection of these technologies, which is then agreed to," says Glen Griffith, director of standards development at Rockwell. It would be highly unlikely that the standardized technology looks exactly like the x2 orK56flex protocols, he adds, but rather some amalgam.

Earlier this year, an informal group of about 20 communications companies backing the K56flex technology formed the Open 56K Forum, but USR panned any independent efforts to produce a standard. Cowell derided it is "only a marketing effort."

"To my knowledge, that group has never actually met. Our real win is in the acceleration of the ITU process," he said. The Open 56K Forum, which USR never joined, is "basically moribund," according to a spokesperson for the effort. The group of about 20 companies was supposed to work on a standard, but most were already involved in the efforts to promote the K56flex technology.

Cowell made the remarks while introducing new upgrade programs meant to assuage consumers and online service providers' fears that their equipment would become obsolete with the move toward an international communications standard. The company said it would offer free upgrades for both its desktop modems and remote access equipment used by ISPs to the new standard, as well as a 30-day money-back guarantee.