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Consortium OKs 3Com's cable modems

The firm says its cable modems are now certified by industry consortium CableLabs, meaning that they can "talk" to equipment made by rival manufacturers.

Another cable-modem maker, 3Com, has received a stamp of approval from the industry's research arm even as important new features are being developed for the modems.

Networking equipment maker 3Com said that its cable modems were now certified by industry consortium CableLabs, meaning that they can "talk" to equipment made by rival manufacturers.

3Com said the availability of certified cable modems will eventually help cable operators reduce rollout costs and increase subscriber rates.

Toshiba and Thomson Consumer Electronics were two other companies certified in earlier testing. While the four largest cable modem makers, Motorola Cisco, Com21, and Nortel have yet to get their modems certified, 3Com's addition to the list is important because it is the strongest player in the retail channel based on sales of aftermarket dial-up modems. To that end, 3Com, the largest maker of "aftermarket" dial-up modems, said it is set to leverage its traditional strengths in the retail channel and make the products more widely available.

For consumers, certified, standards-based modems could be used with any service provider's equipment. Currently, most cable modems are leased to consumers or purchased directly from the cable operator and only used with that service provider.

Meanwhile, CableLabs also released to manufacturers technical specifications for technology that would enable all cable modems to offer guaranteed levels of bandwidth. Based on this technology cable operators will be able to offer different service packages to consumers based on the access speed they want to pay for.

Taken together, the fledgling steps are anticipated to help create a larger market for Internet service via cable. Paul Kagan Associates projects that the cable industry will install 1.1 million cable modems in the U.S. this year, bringing the year-end total to 1.6 million.