Hopes that the 56Kbps modem war would be settled next month have been dashed amid rows over intellectual property.
The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) was expected to issue a preliminary standard specification for the fast modems at its meeting in Geneva next month, but this move is not now expected until at least the end of the year. It will then take another few months for compatible products to be developed, tested and rolled out.
The delay will frustrate users and Internet service providers (ISPs), who are currently forced to choose between the two incompatible would-be standards, X2 from 3Com/USR and K56flex from Lucent and Rockwell. There are fears that one or both of these could be obsoleted once a single standard is set, although both camps have promised upgrade paths to any technology ratified by the ITU. The final specification is likely to combine elements of both technologies.
The ITU process is held up by legal problems over ownership of some of the technologies that would be incorporated in a standard, said a source, who would not reveal further details.
Once a preliminary standard is approved, a final ratified standard will follow, usually after six months or so.
Analysts believe a standard is essential to win user confidence in the 56K modem market and to boost sales, which have been disappointing so far - partly because of teething problems with upgrade packs for current V34 modems. US electronics analyst Jack Rickard said the lack of a standard is delaying upgrades badly. "A lot of people are saying I don't want to play the upgrade game until you've got a standard together," he said.
This week, Compaq subsidiary Microcom was the first modem maker to offer a free 56Kbps upgrade programme that allows users to retain their installed 33.6Kbps modem ports alongside the new 56K ports, in the same chassis. Most programmes force users to replace slower ports with new ones.
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