Lucent Technologies and 3Com have joined forces to unite their rival specifications for 56Kbps modems, but faster technologies threaten to give the standard a short lifespan.
The two companies aim to end the long standing battle between Lucent's 56Kflex and 3Com's X2 designs, which has dogged the analogue technology for over a year. Now they say they will conduct joint testing of their modems and chipsets to ensure compatibility between them and with the emerging industry standard ?V.pcm?. They will present their findings to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) in early February, which will then decide on the standard.
?We are different companies with different goals, but we have arrived at the stage where we have had to sit down like adults and reach a compromise,? said Barry Castle, European public affairs manager at 3Com.
?We are really pleased with the deal because we are now well on the way to establishing a standard that is concrete and real. A product that is compatible with all vendors can only give consumers confidence.?
He stressed that the emphasis was now on getting a universally compatible 56K service on the market as soon as possible, adding that "the standard is now ready to be ratified by all".
However, there is evidence that the lifespan of the 56Kbps modem may already be limited. Lucent has also announced a new Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) device that can download data at 1.5Mbps, about 30 times faster than analogue modems. The technology, codenamed Wildwire, also eliminates the need for a splitter at subscribers? homes because the bandwidth is high enough to handle voice and DSL channels at the same time.
?This will enrich the entertainment value of the Internet, without the hassle and cost of installing a dedicated digital line,? said Bob Rango, manager of modem integrated circuits for Lucent?s Microelectronics Group.
Some analysts are also unsure of the potential lifespan of 56Kbps modems.
?At the moment there are conflicting versions of 56K modems on the market,? said John Matthews, principal consultant at research group Ovum. ?The main players initially did their best to win in the marketplace but realised that none of them could deliver the knock-out blow. Now they can?t afford to mess around because the next generation of technology is just around the corner.?
But Matthews believes that, though competing technologies - such as DSL and ISDN - are currently available, the 56Kbps modem is still a "significant step", and has a place in the market.
Susan Thompson, an analyst at Dataquest, agreed that the long term outlook for 56Kbps modems is still bright, although the dispute has stifled the market in recent months.
?The fact remains that analogue technology is here for several more years at least. It is cheaper, easier to buy and everyone knows about it,? she said.
Following the ratification of the V.pcm standard, both 3Com and Lucent hope to have interoperable products on the market shortly after, as well as software upgrades to make existing K56flex and X2 modems compliant. Upgrades via the Internet will be free of charge. Meanwhile, Lucent surged past Wall Street expectations when it announced its quarterly results. Net income increasedby 31 per cent to a record $1.124 billion, equivalent to $1.72 a share, excluding a one-time charge associated with its acquisition of Livingston Enterprises. Revenues for the first quarter to 31 December 1997 were $8.724 billion, up 10 per cent from $7.93 billion a year ago.
?This was another record quarter for Lucent, reflecting solid operational growth and successful effort to manage costs,? said Richard McGinn, chief executive and president of Lucent, who was also named chairman yesterday.
He noted that sales to network service providers had been particularly strong during the quarter. ?Revenues in this sector grew by more than 18 per cent, led by robust sales of switching and wireless systems and software,? he added.
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