Rockwell Semiconductor has signed Microcom to help it compete with US Robotics, its main rival in the emerging 56Kbps modem race.
Microcom's Modemware, a modem/network interface, will be combined with Rockwell's K56Plus digital signal processing modems, to offer features comparable to the US Robotics' technology. The development agreement centres on a new, jointly resourced research centre in Microcom's Massachusetts headquarters. The main short term aims are to produce a proprietary 56Kbps product within 18 months, and to create a new high speed modem protocol called MNP 56.
Armando Geday, general manager of Rockwell Semiconductor, said: "Microcom has the ability to enhance Rockwell's K56Plus solution for mission critical, central site applications such as for the Internet and Intranet."
Rockwell, US Robotics and the other main contender, Lucent's Microelectronics Group, all plan to ship client and server modems by April, and were actively touting their wares at the Comdex show last week. But uptake of the new technology could be hampered by a standards conflict. Each of the three players, plus 3Com, has submitted its own chipset specification to the International Telecommunications Union, but that group typically takes two years to make a decision.
However, Rockwell, 3Com and Lucent have already agreed to make their chipsets interoperable, although this is unlikely to take effect in the first releases of their modems. Interoperability between all designs is critical, since compatible 56Kbps technology must be installed at both the user and the service provider ends, for the high speed connection to be made.
Currently US Robotics and the Lucent-Rockwell camp are in a stand-off position, signing up hundreds of service providers to endorse their technologies. But for the 56Kbps market to take off, they will almost certainly have to meet each other halfway.
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