As expected, an ITU committee in Geneva approved the draft V.pcm standard which bridges competing 56Kbps modem technologies, X2 and K56Flex. But the main producers of 56Kbps modem chips have not yet agreed on interoperability testing, potentially rendering the standard meaningless.
After almost a year of industry infighting which had dampened the potentially huge market for faster modems, the main players in the modem market decided in December to call a truce. They started work on the V.pcm standard.
The draft specification was frozen on Thursday, and it will be assigned an official number before the meeting concludes on Friday. Official ratification of the standard will probably follow later this year.
3Com, which last year acquired US Robotics, developer of the X2 technology, immediately announced it would ship products that adhere to the standard before the end of this quarter. Some other vendors are also aiming to ship products in the next few weeks.
However, there is a snag. Though 3Com and Lucent have agreed to test the interoperability of their V.pcm standards, there is still no such agreement between these two companies and Rockwell, which like Lucent manufactures K56Flex chips.
All three major manufacturers of modem chips now admit that this will mean initial "standard" V.pcm modems will not be interoperable. In fact, it appears, they are no more standard than current x2 or K56Flex modems: all will eventually need a software upgrade in order to be able to work together.
Mike Jacobs, manager of public relations for Lucent, admits that there is a problem. "A consumer has to be careful", he said. "If it's labelled V.pcm, that doesn't mean it's interoperable". Jacobs said the problems are caused by the enormous market demand for a standard product, which is putting pressure on vendors to ship products fast.
Rockwell and 3Com, meanwhile, are blaming each other.
Moiz Beguwala, VP and general manager of personal communications with Rockwell, said it has already finalised its V.pcm code and rolled it out to OEM's. "We expect to see V.pcm products based on Rockwell chips out in weeks", he said.
But he admitted that he could only guarantee that the systems would interoperate with other modems also built with Rockwell chips. Beguwala blames 3Com for the lack of interoperability: "3Com has essentially taken the path where they want to bring out a product as soon as possible without checking interoperability", he claimed, and added: "This has forced us to go the same way".
Burk Murray, product line manager with 3Com, tells a different story: "We have issued an open invitation to all manufacturers to do testing with us." But, he said, Rockwell has not responded. "To my knowledge, Rockwell does not have a product ready for testing", Burk Murray claimed.
Some modem vendors are trying to avoid the confusion that threatens to hit when non-interoperable "standard" products emerge. Hayes, Cisco and Ascend are announcing that they are joining in a V.pcm workgroup. They pledge not to release V.pcm-only products until full interoperability can be demonstrated between major modem and server providers. The workgroup wishes to attract additional members.
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