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Tech Industry

Fast modem confusion persists

Those who thought the world of 56-kbps modems grew simpler after agreement on an industry standard should think again.

Those who thought the world of 56-kbps modems grew simpler with this month's announcement that the industry had arrived at a standard should think again.

Since the International Telecommunications Union announced the 56-kbps standard, dubbed v.90, on February 6, Internet newsgroups and Web sites have been buzzing with questions about what companies are releasing the right products, which Internet service providers support the standard, and how much new modems and related equipment cost.

Before v.90 was established, consumers had to choose between 56-kbps modems using either 3Com's x2 or Rockwell's K56 flex technology. Users then had to find an ISP that supported the modem technology they had purchased.

Attempting to answer at least some of these questions is v.90, a site launched by Paul English, a software industry veteran who says he knows "the painful experience of buying a 56K modem."

The site is run and funded independently, although English says that he has been approached by industry members looking to affiliate themselves with his site and its enviable domain name. English launched the site with two of his friends as a clearinghouse for information from modem and networking companies, and as an advocacy service for confused consumers.

According to English, the industry now has a chance to rein in some of the confusion--and stunted sales--it created by marketing 56-kbps modems that are not compatible with one another and do not usually transmit data as fast as 56 kbps because of network constraints.

"They should never have said 56K, because there is no 56K," English said. "Over the next month, when you go into a store, it should just say 'v.90.' That will be much simpler for people."

The site features links to company Web sites, a cost-benefit analysis of switching over to v.90 technology, and explanations of how the technology works.

English said that he hopes the site will also serve as a "kick in the pants" to the entire networking industry to be more consumer-friendly.

"If the industry doesn't understand what's going on with the standard, then the consumers don't have a chance," he said.