The reference platform specifications describe what the company calls "passive ISDN cards" that plug into x86-based PCs. ISDN--which enables users to connect to the Internet, online services, or corporate networks at speeds up to 128 kbps--normally requires a special PC card with a dedicated microprocessor and memory. Motorola's passive design would allow ISDN plug-in cards to off-load certain functions to a PC's CPU and memory, thereby eliminating the need for a dedicated processor and memory on the card itself.
According to Motorola, ISDN cards based on this design will cost less than $200 compared to roughly $300 for low-end ISDN cards already on the market.
Analysts said the relatively high cost of ISDN cards have been a barrier to many consumers and praised Motorola for addressing the price issue. Unfortunately, even if the cheaper cards become widely available, they will not simplify the installation of the actual ISDN lines over which data is transmitted, a complex process that often causes users to tear out their hair in frustration.
"[The hardware reference platform] is a move in the right direction for ISDN cards for home use and telecommuting," said Diane Myers, senior analyst at In-Stat, a consultancy in Scottsdale, Arizona. "A passive [ISDN] solution cuts down on cost because you don't have to have a microprocessor. That's where high cost of ISDN terminal equipment is now."
Motorola plans to make passive ISDN cards itself, and it has also signed up several software companies, including CoSystems, Link Technology, and TeleSoft, to supply the smarts for future passive cards. Cards based on the reference platform should be available by the middle of this year, Motorola officials said, but no other hardware company has yet declared an intent to manufacture cards based on Motorola's design.