From bobrankin@MHV.NET Wed Apr 16 20:46:04 1997
Date: Wed, 16 Apr 1997 18:57:53 -0400
From: Bob Rankin 
Subject: TOURBUS - 15 April 1997 - 56K Modems

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               TODAY'S TOURBUS TOPIC: 56K Modems

 [Sorry this issue is a day late, my Uncle Sam and I were having
  a little chat yesterday...]

What's All The Fuss About 56K Modems?

You've probably seen it in stores, magazines, and on the Web.  A new
type of modem recently hit the streets - and it's capable of speeds
about twice as fast as the garden variety 28.8 model.

So everybody should rush out and buy a 56K modem, right?  How about an
unqualified "maybe"?  Let's take a look at the issues, but first a word
from a new sponsor with some pretty cool software...

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How Does 56K Work?

Remember when 2400 bps modems came out, the marketeers said "Wow - eight
times faster than the old 300 bps clunker!"  And the engineers said "But
don't get too excited - this is the highest possible communication speed
over normal telephone wires."

We heard that line again when 14.4's arrived, and again for the 28.8
and 33.6 modems.  Finally, they might be justified in saying it doesn't
get any better than this.

By taking advantage of the digital connection that many ISPs have to the
local phone company, a 56K modem can bypass the analog-to-digital conversion
when receiving data, but you're still limited to 33.6 speeds when sending
data.  That's cool, because speed typically matters most on the inbound
path.  (Faster downloads, better web performance)

And if you factor in the V.42bis compression feature of these modems,
download speeds of more than 200K bps are possible!  That works out to
about 20KB per second in practice, which will net you a megabyte of
cyberstuff in under a minute.  That's close to ISDN speed, at a fraction
of the cost.

Whoa, Who Makes These Puppies?

Therein lies the rub, my friend.  Both US Robotics and Rockwell came out
with their own flavor of 56K modem late last year.  In a headlong rush
to be first to market, we have two incompatible products and no standard.

This is bad news, because your ISP has to spend about $50,000 to upgrade
their equipment to support one of the dueling 56K protocols.  Lots of small
to medium sized service providers either balk at the price tag, or hold off
because they don't want to gamble on the upgrade, only to see the 56K
standard change in six months.

So even though you can buy a US Robotics "x2" modem, or one of the Rockwell
style "K56Flex" modems (made by Boca, Hayes, Motorola, etc.) today, you
won't be able to surf at 56K unless your ISP supports the 56K modem you
have.  (You can still connect at 33.6 with the 56K modems, though.)

Does My ISP Support 56K?

Hardware vendors and ISPs are lining up on both sides of the 56K fence,
hoping that their gamble will pay off.  Visit these web sites to learn
more about 56K and find a list of ISPs that support the 56K protocols:

  For Rockwell K56flex -
  For US Robotics x2   -

  The USR site has an "x2 LineTest" you can use to confirm that your
  phone lines supports the 56K speed.

The list of ISPs supporting USR's x2 standard seems to be a lot bigger at
this point, and includes big names like AOL, CompuServe, Prodigy, Netcom,
MCI and IBM Global Network.  USR claims that more than 70 percent of online
service users will be hooked up to providers that use its x2 technology.

Come Together, Right Now?

Although the companies are trying to reach an agreement about a 56K
standard, it's unlikely to happen until late this year.  So confusion
reigns for a while longer - and you might be risking your money if you
buy a 56K modem now that turns out to be incompatible with the long-
awaited standard.

If you already have a 28.8 or 33.6 modem, it might be wise to wait a
few months to see how things develop.  But if your ISP is already
supporting 56K speeds, it's mighty tempting to upgrade, especially if
you're running at 14.4 or lower.

Even though most pundits are crying "poor user" about this, I have a
feeling that no matter which flavor of 56K becomes the standard, it
won't mean you'll have to throw away your 56K modem if you buy today.

It would be a huge PR problem for either one of these companies to
suffer the fate of tens of thousands of angry customers, so I'm betting
that the issue will become moot either through software upgrades or
exchange offers.

For the record, I bought a USR x2 Sportster 56K modem last December.
My 28.8 got fried, so it seemed like a killer deal at under $150.  I
can't connect at 56K yet, and my ISP is not giving any clues, but I'm
sure the day of 56K will come soon.  And I'm sure that the very next
day, my cable company will offer flat rate 500Kbps service.  :-)

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