Tech Industry

Rockwell integrates modem, LAN

Rockwell combines networking capabilities and its 56-kbps modem technology into a single chip it says will simplify the lives of notebook and desktop users.

Rockwell Semiconductor Systems is combining networking capabilities and its 56-kbps modem technology into a single chip it says will simplify the lives of notebook and desktop users who have a need for both types of connections.

End users who now connect to Ethernet local area networks and 56Kflex modems (the trade name of Rockwell's 56-kbps technology) are forced to use two chips, tying up valuable computer resources and sometimes creating other headaches. Industry analysts cautiously assessed Rockwell's announcement as a prudent move.

"It makes sense to combine the two technologies," said Abner Germanow, an analyst at International Data Corporation. He said small and home offices were especially likely to drive demand for products using the chipset.

Expected to be available in volume in early 1998, the chips will combine a 10/100-mbps Fast Ethernet controller with Rockwell's K56flex modem. It will cost $68 for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). The price, said two analysts, could be the chips' biggest sticking point.

"Theoretically, you should be able to build a high-performance, integrated device for cheaper" than the price of the two individual devices, said Maribel Lopez, an analyst at Forrester Research, who thought the $68 price tag sounded steep.

But price may not be such a factor if Rockwell is the only company providing the chip.

Andy Mills, director of LAN marketing at Rockwell, doubted that 3Com, Rockwell's archrival in the 56 kbps arena, was in a position to combine the two types of connectivity, because it counts on two companies--Texas Instruments and Lucent Technologies--to supply the technologies.

Mills said he expected demand for the chip to be "in the millions," and added his research showed that one OEM was loading 30 percent of the desktop PCs it shipped with separate cards for LAN and 56 K connections.

Rockwell has already lined up a number of companies that plan to use the chips, he said. Product announcements from those companies are forthcoming. Rockwell plans to demonstrate a vendor model at Comdex.

In related news, GTE today announced that it has implemented 56-kbps connectivity into its DiaLinx dial-up network. The service connects businesses to intranets, extranets, and the Internet.