As the race heats up to ship 56-kbps modems this year, telephone companies have begun taking strides to handle the new technology.
The latest company to set up a backbone for ISPs to run 56 kbps is Pac-West Telecomm, a full-service telephone company certified by the California Public Utilities Commission. The 15-year-old company already offers 56-kbps local Internet access for ISPs in Northern California. Today, Pac-West expanded its service to the southern part of the state.
ISPs need digital lines in order to provide service with for 56-kbps modems, which are expected to be ship soon by U.S. Robotics, Rockwell International, and Lucent Technologies. The new modems will not work to their full capacity if they are connected to traditional phone lines.
The new modems will nearly double the current 28.8-kbps standard for data transfer over the Internet. All three manufacturers are working toward an international standard but are not there yet, which could make it more difficult for ISPs to provide service. That's where Pac-West fits in.
The company knows that modems from the two main 56-kbps camps, Rockwell and U.S. Robotics, are incompatible. So it is offering to set up to two digital "trunks" for ISPs, one to service each manufacturer's modem. This way ISPs can offer connections for both modems, which was deemed a huge hurdle when it was announced that the companies were working on two different standards.
"If a company wanted to use the conventional approach using Pacific Bell, for example, it takes about 75 telephone numbers to cover all the rate centers, and they'd have to run 75 T1 lines to provide 56-kbps service," said Joel Effron, vice president of marketing for Pac-West. "We make it affordable to provide access throughout [California] for both Rockwell and U.S. Robotics-compatible modems with only 24 lines and without the ISP running their own T1 lines out."
Other services are likely to range in cost from $30 per modem and $25 per mile to run T1 lines to every local dial-up.
Companies like Pacific Bell and AT&T provide digital service, but Pac-West claims its service is simpler. Most ISPsw could provide 56-kbps service on their own via a T1 connection or ISDN, both of which transmit digital data. ISPs would have to run a T1 or ISDN out to each area where they provided 56-kbps service. Then they would set up local dial-up numbers.
But Pac-West promises to cut the work for ISPs who want to serve customers with the new modems. Pac-West has two super POPs, one in Northern California and another in Southern California. ISPs simply buy the connection from Pac-West, which in return provides the dial-up numbers and digital connection.
The company will hook up a digital trunk that services 24 modems for $20 each per month, but rates do fluctuate, said Effron. "Plus, companies don?t have to manage their own network. We do."
Most ISPs serve ten customers per modem, he added.