Modems that make the latest 56K models and even basic rate ISDN look like slowcoaches could be available soon at consumer prices, US Robotics claimed at Cebit. The snag is that they require massive investment by phone companies.
BT is testing its own version of Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) technology, which sends a high-frequency signal down the same phone lines used by low-frequency voice calls.
Filters even allow the lines to be used simultaneously for ADSL and voice, providing an enormous gain in the capacity of existing infrastructure. The problem for BT is that ADSL will involve a cataclysmic change in revenue streams as the cost of bandwidth plummets.
US Robotics pre-empted the 56K modem market last year by announcing a model before a standard had been agreed. The announcement of its cheap Viper-DSL modem could similarly push the market to ADSL.
The Viper-DSL will be capable of up to 6Mbps downstream and 640Kbps upstream, with an imminent firmware upgrade. It currently costs $495, but the price could drop below $200 in mass production, according to Assistant Marketing VP Ron Westernik.
A corresponding ADSL slot at the exchange end costs $387 a port. "That means a telco (telephone company) can try out ADSL for as little as $900 a line. That's a fraction of how much it would cost with other systems," said Westernik, who claimed "enormous interest" from European telcos.
Motorola also chose Cebit to proffer higher data rates, this time on GSM cellular phones. Its Cellect 3 card modem for notebooks and organisers doubles as an ordinary 33.6Kbps modem for standard lines and can pump up to 55Kbps through a 9.6Kbps GSM link.
The data rate depends on compression and will be most evident on text-intensive data such as email, but less so for Web pages on which the graphics are already highly compressed. End-user price is #425 excluding VAT.
Also at the show was Netscape founder Jim Clark, who said the company is focusing on the corporate market because "we noticed that most of our revenues by far were coming from companies".
Netscape VP of Marketing Mike Homer presented a strategy paper arguing persuasively that Netscape's open systems policy offers companies huge advantages over proprietary Microsoft Internet technology like ActiveX.
The paper can be downloaded from (www.netscape.com/comprod/at_work/white_paper/vision/intro.html) and is worth reading for anyone who fears that Microsoft is about to swamp Netscape.
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