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USR to test cable modems

U.S. Robotics will conduct cable modem trials with two operators and launch the first regional retail sales of the devices.

As part of a nationwide effort to expand cable modem service slowly but surely, U.S. Robotics (USRX) will conduct cable modem trials with two cable operators and launch the first regional retail sales of these modems.

The trials will be conducted with St. Louis-based Charter Communications and Insight Communications, headquartered in New York.

Cable modems connect to existing TV cable lines and can offer Internet access to home users at speeds of up to 10 mbps--many times that of the typical 28.8-kbps modem now used in home PCs.

The trials will provide a select group of subscribers with high-speed Internet access accompanied by the first regional retail sales of standards-based cable modems, USR said. Subscribers will be able to use the network with a cable modem that will be available in retail stores for prices comparable to those of standard modems being sold today, the company added.

The trials are expected to begin separately in the summer and fall.

Charter Communications will employ the U.S. Robotics system in St. Louis, where the company serves more than 200,000 subscribers. Insight will conduct a trial at its suburban Indianapolis cable system, which consists of about 30,000 subscribers.

The trials also represent the industry's first Multimedia Cable Networks System standards-based cable access system. MCNS is an organization formed by leading cable operators to develop industrywide standards for cable modems.

The U.S. Robotics cable access system initially employs only one-way access (downloading), which is compatible with cable operators' current network infrastructures. The system also provides a pathway to two-way cable as operators upgrade their networks in the future, USR said. This upgrade is accomplished with the addition of network cards at the service provider's end.

As of 1996, about 10 percent of cable companies could handle two-way communication compared with 6 percent the year before, according to analysts. The cable modem market is expected to surge 220 percent in 1997 when unit shipments are expected to reach 80,000 units, according to a Dataquest report.

"We think data over cable will be one of the most important developments in our business since Home Box Office launched the industry's first satellite-delivered service 20 years ago," said Michael Willner, president of Insight, in a prepared statement.