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Laptops get ISDN jump-start

High-speed Internet access from a laptop PC, a potent combination for telecommuters and traveling executives, is starting to take off.

High-speed Internet access from a laptop PC, a potent combination for telecommuters and traveling executives, is starting to take off.

In the latest example, NTT Intelligent Technology, an arm of the Japanese telecommunications giant, and SBE, a computer networking company, said today that they have begun shipping a PC card for ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network) connections, dubbed ThunderCard, for use in laptop computers in North America.

The card, one of more than 20 that are coming to market, allow laptop PC users to plug in to an ISDN line and surf the Net at speeds typically four times faster than with regular analog modems. About 190,000 of the cards will be sold worldwide this year, and the number is expected to grow to 4.1 million by the year 2000, said Andrew Prophet, owner of Andrew Prophet Research & Consulting.

"Telecommuters and field sales professionals can get fast access to the corporate office to retrieve email, access database files, or check inventory in a fraction of the time it used to take--seconds," said Tetsuya Koshimura, marketing manager for NTT Intelligent Technology.

Added Prophet: "About one-third of [ISDN card users] are telecommuters."

The ThunderCard, compatible with Windows 95 and 3.1 operating systems, costs $400. With a so-called NT-1 device, which is required to complete the ISDN connection, the price is $600. NTT makes the card, which is being distributed in North America by SBE. The ISDN connection costs more.

NTT is one of a growing number of companies offering ISDN cards. Some of the biggest players include IBM, Eicon Technology, Angia Communications, Connectware, and Xircom. On his research firm's Web site, Prophet lists more than 20 ISDN card makers but adds that the list will grow "rapidly over the next two years."

There are drawbacks to the technology, however. In the United States, many hotels still do not offer ISDN access, and the pricing is still too high for many users.

But analysts expect pricing to come down with industry regulation. They also point out that ISDN is further along than ADSL, or cable modems, the competing forms of high-speed Internet access.